Sunday Notebook: Biffle gives Ford its 1,000th NASCAR victoryMore salutes to Leffler; early exit for Gordon
By: By Scott Held, Special to NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Sunday was Father's Day, but it also turned into a sweet birthday celebration for Ford Motor Co.
Greg Biffle drove his No. 16 Ford Fusion to victory in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on the same day Ford Motor Co. marked the 110th anniversary of its founding. It also was the 1,000th victory for the blue oval in NASCAR's top three divisions.
Ford Racing director Jamie Allison and other officials from the automaker gathered near Biffle's pit box to count down the final laps. Ford is headquartered in Dearborn, about 80 miles from MIS.
Owner Jack Roush, who considers MIS is home track, celebrated his 313th victory.
"Ford started racing in NASCAR more than 60 years ago and we've been involved over half of that time and some great teams and great drivers have been part of that," Roush said. "We're honored to be part of that history."
Ford Racing was ready to celebrate the 1,000-victory milestone: Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia were given "Ford 1000" caps before they met the media.
Jim Roper won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race June 19, 1949, at Charlotte driving a Lincoln.
MORE SALUTES TO LEFFLER
Denny Hamlin's crew began tearing the livery off his No. 11 Toyota almost as soon as Saturday afternoon's final practice session ended. When the car returned to the track for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, it carried the weekend's most visible tribute to Jason Leffler.
Hamlin's new paint scheme was the same as the one Leffler ran for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005. Hamlin replaced Leffler, who was killed Wednesday in a sprint car crash, in the FedEx-sponsored ride.
It took some scrambling to make it happen.
"He was the reason FedEx came into the sport and it just made sense," Hamlin said after finishing 30th. "We asked the sponsor if it was good and the biggest issue was time, but Joe Gibbs Racing found someone Saturday evening to get somebody here and get it done."
Several Sprint Car drivers shared their memories of the late racer, who made 73 starts on the circuit, throughout the weekend and many cars carried decals paying tribute to Leffler. Defending series champion Brad Keselowski had Leffler's Twitter handle on the rear of his No. 2 Ford.
A video tribute to Leffler was shown on video boards at Michigan International Speedway and fans observed a moment of silence in his honor.
"It was neat to see how much the fans and the racing community saluted him and supported him the last four days," said Kasey Kahne, who flew from last week's race at Pocono with Leffler. "It shows what kind of racer and person he was."
Leffler died Wednesday when his sprint car struck a wall at a New Jersey dirt track. He was 37. A memorial service will be held Wednesday in Cornelius, N.C.
EARLY EXIT FOR GORDON
Jeff Gordon's shot at his first victory of the season ended 52 laps into Sunday's race after getting caught up in an accident on lap 5.
Casey Mears and Bobby Labonte made contact in turn 2 and the spinning Labonte collected Gordon, who started 29th. Neither man was injured.
"Bobby Labonte just lost it over there in turn 2," Gordon said. "He just did one of those slow spins where I couldn't tell which direction he was going to go, so I had to guess and I guessed the wrong way. I didn't really have anywhere else to go."
The 39th-place finish is the second straight outside the top 10 for Gordon, who entered the day 11th in the Sprint Cup standings but fell to 16th. He's still seeking his first win of the season.
"I don't want to see the team get down and I don't want to see myself get down," he said. "I have a lot of fight in me and so does this team. I'm looking forward to going to Sonoma."
Gordon has five career Sprint Cup victories at the California road course.
KRYPTONITE STRIKES DALE JR.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. added Sony Pictures' "Man of Steel" as a sponsor this weekend and his crew sported T-shirts with the superhero's 'S' emblem on the chests during pre-race activities. One crew member even walked around wearing Superman's red cape.
It seemed something super found its way into Earnhardt's power plant, too, as he led 34 laps and appeared to have a strong setup for the finish. The car's engine blew, however, on lap 131, three laps after he lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson.
"We had such an awesome race car. We actually improved the car on the last stop," he said. "It's frustrating, but you'd rather be leading the race than be running at the back and have problems. At least we were strong."
Earnhardt ended the day 37th and fell from fourth to seventh in the standings.
The Zack Snyder film, a reboot of the popular superhero story, had a better weekend. It opened with a projected $133 million in ticket sales, the best June opening weekend in box office history.