MARTINSVILLE, VA -- When it was announced that Jeff Gordon would be coming out of retirement to fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms.  it was questioned about whether it would effect Gordon’s NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility.

 

NASCAR confirmed to Speedway Digest on Friday that Gordon’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame has not been effected through his fill-in role in 2016. 

 

Gordon will be eligible to be nominated in 2018. If he is a first ballot nominee, he will be inducted in 2019.

 

Gordon has filled in eight races. Gordon’s best finish was 10th at Dover International Speedway. His best start was 11th at Bristol and Richmond.

 

NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility is drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and been retired three years are eligible for nomination, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years and have reached their 55th birthday before December 31 of the year prior to the nominating year are immediately eligible, or if a computer has competed 30 or more years in NASCAR competition by December 31 of the year prior to the nominating year is eligible.

 

Over his career, Gordon has 93 wins, 805 starts, 325 top-five’s, 476 top-10’s, and 81 poles over his 25 year career. Gordon is currently a member of the NASCAR on FOX team. 

With more than a tenth of a second in the bank, Martin Truex, Jr. captured the pole for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. At a time of 179.244 mph, the No. 78 car picked up its third pole of 2016, the other two came at 1.5- mile race tracks, in which he dominated, including a race-winning effort during the Coca-Cola 600. 

In 21 career starts at the Tricky Triangle, Truex has one career win, coming last year when he was out front for 97 circuits. In June, the No. 78 car faced many problems, including a wreck on pit road that ended the day in 19th. 

"It's exciting for us," Truex said of his pole for Furniture Row Racing. "Anytime you win anything in this series, it's a big deal. Getting a pole today is awesome. We had a game plan coming here, but we felt like we needed to qualify well for Sunday and we were able to do that."

For the second straight week, Carl Edwards will lineup alongside the pole-sitter in the second position. The No. 19 car posted a lap at 178.873 mph, which was best among the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. 

After recording the fastest lap in practice, Paul Menard will start a season-best third at 178.671 mph. The No. 27 team is being led by Danny Stockman, a veteran crew chief for the first time at Pocono, hoping to turn the teams season around. 

"I've worked with Danny [Stockman] for basically a year and a half now," Menard said. "It's just a different perspective from Justin [Alexander]. Justin is a smart guy. we just needed to change something up and make a spark. We threw Danny into the fire and it's worked well." 

Four-time Pocono winner, Denny Hamlin will start Sunday from the fourth position (178.540 mph). Ryan Newman rounded out the top five (178.433 mph), marking the second Richard Childress Racing car in the top five. 

Including Austin Dillon, who qualified 12th, it marked the first time since August of 2014 at Michigan that all three RCR cars made it to the final round of qualifying. All three cars were among the top 10 in practice Friday afternoon. 

"It was a good day without a doubt for RCR and ECR engines," Newman said. "We had three of the top 10 in practice and two of the top five in qualifying. It should translate over to the race. Track position is important, horsepower, having a good qualifying effort and usually you'll have a good race day." 

Tony Stewart qualified sixth at 178.394 mph, Brad Keselowski was seventh (178.359 mph), Chase Elliott eighth (177.571 mph), defending race-winner Matt Kenseth (177.413 mph) was ninth and Joey Logano (177.151 mph) rounded out the top 10. 

June winner, Kurt Busch turned the 15th fastest lap, alongside his brother Kyle Busch in 16th. Ryan Blaney posted the 18th fastest time, after having the third best time in round one. 

A trio of three Hendrick Motorsports cars will start outside the top 20, starting with Jimmie Johnson in 21st. 2013 winner Kasey Kahne will begin Sunday's race from 23rd and six-time Pocono winner, Jeff Gordon will start his second race back out of retirement in 24th. 

Final practice is set to begin on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. ET. 

Ray Evernham was a successful NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief and car owner. Before becoming a car owner, Evernham was the crew chief for a very successful up and coming driver, Jeff Gordon. He is known as the man who “revolutionized the pit stop.”

Ray Evernham competed as a Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports from 1992 to 1999. Evernham was paired to future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon. Evernham had 213 starts, 47 wins, and 30 poles as a crew chief. He guided Jeff Gordon to three championships in 1995, 1997, and 1998. Evernham won two Daytona 500’s in 1997 and 1999. Because of his expertise in the mechanical aspect, Evernham and his team revolutionized the pit stop. Each member of the pit crew had a specialized task and tried to perfect it by using choreography.

After his crew chief days, Evernham took to the ownership side of NASCAR in 2001. His move to the ownership brought Dodge back into NASCAR. The glory days of Evernham’s teams were when NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bill Elliott, drove for Evernham. Together, Elliott and Evernham won the 2002 Brickyard 400 in triumphant fashion, and won 13 times. Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne are notable drivers that have also driven under Evernham’s ownership. Unfortunately, in 2007, Evernham sold majority of his team and began work for NASCAR on ESPN.

Currently, Evernham is a consultant for the competition department at Hendrick Motorsports. Evernham is also the host of AmeriCarna on Velocity. 

Chip Ganassi Racing had a subpar season in 2015. For the second consecutive season neither Jamie McMurray or Kyle Larson were victorious in the 36-race season. There were flashes of bright spots for both teams, but each wants to pick up the performance in 2016.

It would be normal to think that McMurray was satisfied in making the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career. The No. 1 team showed instances in which it could contend for the win with two second-place finishes at Phoenix in the spring to Kevin Harvick and Martinsville in the fall to Jeff Gordon.

The short tracks are where the team has excelled in the past few seasons. One area in which the team decreased from 2014 was at the 1.5-mile racetracks. Throughout his career, McMurray has been solid on the mile-and-a-half tracks, but last year was an exception.

It was just two years ago that the No. 1 car won the Sprint All-Star Race and McMurray left Charlotte Motor Speedway $1 million dollars richer. Last season was a struggle, which is why in 2016 one of the team’s main goals is to re-establish itself on those tracks.

“Ultimately, it’s just about better cars and better setups,” McMurray told Speedway Digest last month at the NASCAR Media Tour. “I’ve been able to win at some mile-and-a-half racetracks in the past. In 2014, we were just really good at those tracks and in 2015 we weren’t as good.”

McMurray, 39, is coming off a season in which he posted four top fives and 10 top-10 finishes, down from the 13 that he posted a year prior. However, the Missouri native was consistent with a career-best 14.9 average finish, but finished with a career-low in laps led, 14.

In the 11 1.5-mile tracks that were on the Sprint Cup schedule, McMurray averaged a 15.8 average finish, leading nine laps at Texas back in April. Based on the fact that he accumulated just two top-10 finishes in those 11 races, he knows that he needs to improve in 2016.

“I didn’t particularly do anything different,” McMurray said. “Ultimately, it’s just about being able to have the right car and the right setup underneath you.”

Compared to 2014, McMurray had had a better average finish on the 1.5-mile racetracks, but didn’t run up nearly as much. In the previous season, he had two finishes outside of the top 35 at Kansas and Kentucky, but ended the season with three-consecutive top-five finishes at Charlotte, Texas and Homestead. The No. 1 car finished inside of the top five in both races in NASCAR’s hub in 2014.

All year long, Larson struggled in 2015. The driver that had so much animosity behind him due to his remarkable rookie season ended up with a disappointing 2015 season.

In his first year of competition at the Sprint Cup level, Larson exceeded expectations, though he didn’t go to Victory Lane. It could be argued that it was the best rookie season since Jimmie Johnson in 2002. The results were different last season.

The No. 42 car is notoriously known for riding within an inch of the wall at the majority of the 1.5-mile tracks. The closer to the wall, the more grip there is. But if you get too close to the wall, it will come and grab you, ultimately damaging the car.

“I think just as an organization we want to be better on the mile-and-a-halves,” Larson said. “That’s the majority of our schedule, so we kind of need to focus the most on that. 1.5-mile tracks are my favorite tracks too. I definitely look forward to going to them every week and I feel like we got better on them throughout the year last year.”

Last season, Larson earned just two top fives and 10 top-10 finishes, down from eight top fives and 17 top 10s in his rookie year. The mile-and-a-halves were tracks that the he really struggled on.

With the exception of the season finale at Homestead, Larson recorded zero top-five finishes. He had six finishes of 25th or worse on the 11 1.5-mile racetracks that marked his average finish down to a disappointing 21.1. With a fifth-place finish at Homestead, in a race that looked like he was going to track down race leader Brad Keselowski before a late-race caution, there is reason for optimism heading into 2016.

If the team could go back to the way it performed in the 2014 season, Larson could qualify for his first Chase this season.

The new aerodynamic package for the 2016 season could play into Larson’s hands. The way that the new setup will be plays into a dirt racers hand, with the way that the car slides around. This is something that he normally runs well in as he has had a lot of experience on dirt. In the two races that it was raced in last year at Kentucky and Darlington, the overall racing was some of the best racing all year long.

“I think the aero package will probably help the mile and-a-half racing the most to which will hopefully help our race team,” Larson said. “I would love to be better on mile-and-a-halves than we were last year.”

The team has made multiple changes over the off-season including the addition of crew chief Chad Johnson. He has been atop the pit box for three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart in the last two seasons which were two of Stewart’s worst years to date. Prior to that, Johnston was the leader for Martin Truex, Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing, where the two accumulated a lot of success, resulting in only one victory at Sonoma in 2013.  

In order for this year to be a success, both cars will need to make the Chase and potentially complete for the first Sprint Cup championship in team history.

Prior to last season, Felix Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing guaranteed that both of his drivers would make the Chase. Though he was wrong, there is reason to believe that this could be the year, especially with the money and resources that Rob Kauffman is bringing in from MWR.  

When Kasey Kahne made the move over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, it was the best career move he had ever made in NASCAR. He was joining a team that had won five out of the last six championships, and in 2011, Hendrick equipment took home the title. It seemed like he was entering a wonderland and the perfect ride to elevate his career.

That wonderland came to a screeching halt this past season when Kahne struggled on the racetrack and was visibly frustrated after missing the Chase for the first time in four seasons as the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet.

Kahne is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he recorded just three top-five finishes. His top 10 total was down from 11, to 10 in 2015, his lowest since 2010, when he was a part of Richard Petty Motorsports.

But for Kahne, a driver who came into the sport with such high regard and excelled rather quickly, there is no real reasoning as to why he has fallen off the radar. He has been in the same shop as four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon over the past four seasons, and on the same team as six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and multiple race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

The No. 5 team hit rock bottom in 2015. After re-aligning himself with former team engineer, Keith Rodden, the team was destined to have instant success, especially with how Rodden elevated Jamie McMurray just a year prior at Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2015, he lead a career low 66 laps. He also had three DNF’s including a scary incident at Pocono in which he crashed into the pit wall, scurrying members from AJ Allmendinger’s team. But for the majority of the season he was irrelevant when it came to running up front.

“There are different areas that we as a team needed to work on, so we worked on those positions and spots,” Kahne said of changes that occurred over the off-season. “We changed a few people around that we feel will be better for our team morale. Some of the things that I look for in a car and then the other thing is just enjoying what we get to do again.”

Kahne made it clear that last season was the worst he felt inside of a racecar as he was never comfortable on track. He wasn’t able to enjoy the success that his teammates did, all winning a race. It really put his personal morale and the entire team morale down. With racing over the off-season, he believes it will be an increase in momentum heading into 2016.

“I think by going over and racing my Sprint car and racing midgets and doing things over the off-season that I’ve wanted to do for a long period of time kind of was able to start over in a way and feel good about racing cars,” he said. “I think that helped me in the way that I approached this off-season”

2016 will be all about regaining confidence that the Washington native once had. He was unable to gain consistency throughout 2015 and really through his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports. Sure, he finished fourth in the point standings in 2012, but still needed one of the Wild Card positions to make the Chase.

Since joining one of the top teams in motorsports, Kahne was taken the checkered flag, five times. Compare his first four seasons at HMS to his previous four years with other teams, the amount of wins are the same. Even in qualifying the numbers are down as the No. 5 team has only sat on one pole in the last three years.

Change was needed for the new season. Kahne needed a new mindset, and a clear slate before the Daytona 500. With the recent birth of his son, Tanner, Kahne will look to enter the new year with even more of a reason to perform.

He is under contract with HMS through the 2018 season. He doesn’t have to race for his job, but for himself wants to be successful or else he would have a different job. There is so much left for him to achieve inside of a racecar and the first step might be racing more throughout the season.

With recently getting back into a Sprint car, it has urged him to want to race more. He wants to race for his Sprint car team throughout the NASCAR season, if allowed by Rick Hendrick.

Since the death of his friend Jason Leffler in 2013, Kahne has done very little to no dirt racing. In part it was because Farmers Insurance and Hendrick Motorsports didn’t allow him the opportunity to compete outside of NASCAR. With the recent resurgence on dirt, Kahne seems to be amped up heading into the new racing campaign.

Kahne knows that the team needs to be improved if they are to have any success in 2016. The team has been partially rebuilt, and it will be the second season that Rodden and he have worked together as driver and crew chief. The chemistry needs to improve, but he believes that they can outperform from their 2015 numbers.

“As a team we need faster cars,” he said. “It’s not that it’s not all there, it’s what we are putting on the track and what I’m driving and the way I’m driving. The speed’s not there. There are times when I was as fast as anyone this year, but not near enough.

“I want to be at the front for practice, qualifying and reach each week, not just three times a year. We’re better than that and our cars, our team, everybody is better than that.”

Kahne has a history of being on the Chase bubble heading into Richmond, if the team has better equipment, and prepares like every week is its last there is no telling what this team can do. Take for example the 2014 season where it took him until Atlanta to lock himself into the Chase, two races prior to the point reset.

Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, there are no excuses. Kahne needs to achieve success in 2016 or else his first five years with HMS could be called a bust.  

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