Jeff Gordon celebrates winning the Sprint Cup auto race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber
November 04, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Poor weather at Martinsville Speedway prevented Rick Hendrick from making the trip to the Virginia race track that has been so symbolic to his team.

Martinsville had been the site of so many proud moments for Hendrick Motorsports, as well as its greatest tragedy. A Hendrick plane traveling to the 2004 race crashed, killing all 10 people aboard - Hendrick family members, employees and associates.

So with rain and clouds hanging over the speedway Sunday, Hendrick remained in Charlotte.

''It reminded me too much of 11 years ago and I decided to stay home,'' Hendrick said this week in an interview with The Associated Press.

Skipping the race meant he wasn't present for what will forever be one of the most joyous victories in team history. Jeff Gordon, needing a win to qualify for a chance to race for the championship, earned his first victory of the season. It means the four-time champion will race for the fifth title that has eluded him the last 14 years in his final season before retirement.

Hendrick, a nervous wreck watching on television, instantly regretted not being in Martinsville.

''I wanted it so bad, because I've said for the last three weeks, `Boy, if we can go to Homestead with him, it would be a great way to cap off his career,''' Hendrick said. ''I was just nervous as I could be. Then I just really wanted to be there to celebrate with him because just watching the fans and watching his reaction, how emotional he was, it was like you just won the Super Bowl and weren't there to celebrate with your people.''

The 44-year-old Gordon celebrated by jumping up and down along the frontstretch. He was embraced by his crew, and teammates and fellow drivers made the trip to victory lane to offer their congratulations. He later went into the grandstands to greet the fans who lingered, cheering him on in what Gordon said will forever be considered one of the finest moments of his 23-year career.

Hendrick, who didn't see Gordon until the two had a video conference on Tuesday, said he'd never seen the driver so moved by a win. Still, he doesn't think Sunday's emotion rivaled what Gordon showed in his first career victory in 1994.

''All that emotion at the twilight of your career, you could just see it,'' he said. ''I think this is a different kind of emotion. When he wins Charlotte, that's his first one. You know he's got a lot of career left. This one, it's at the end, so I think this one was more emotional because he's got a family, he knows he's going to retire and I just think it was double the emotion ... more joy.''

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GANASSI-KANAAN: Tony Kanaan will return to Chip Ganassi Racing next year with sponsorship again from NTT Data.

It will be Kanan's third year with Ganassi, who hired the Brazilian to start the 2014 season and then put him in the No. 10 after Dario Franchitti retired.

Kanaan, the all-time leader in IndyCar consecutive starts and winner of the 2013 Indianapolis 500, is hoping for a solid year. He was winless last season with three podium finishes.

''(Last year) was kind of a roller-coaster of a season with some really solid results throughout the year, but our top-five finish and Scott Dixon's championship in Sonoma was a really positive way to go into the offseason for the whole team,'' Kanaan said.

Kanaan won the 2014 finale at Fontana for Ganassi. NTT Data then switched from Ganassi's No. 8 entry to the No. 10 for 2015.

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THERIAULT UPDATE: Austin Theriault hopes to race in the Truck Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He broke his back in a crash last month at Las Vegas, where he hit a retaining wall that did not have an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier. The impact was so hard that it broke the head-and-neck restraint device Theriault was wearing.

Theriault used Twitter on Wednesday to update his health.

''It's been an up and down month of healing,'' Theriault tweeted. ''However, it is even harder sitting on the sidelines, waiting to get back in the Truck. Unfortunately, I won't be competing this weekend at Texas or Phoenix. However, the doctors are upbeat about Homestead.

''Though the season's not over, we've had a great year. I remain grateful for the opportunity to drive the No. 29 this year. Working with everyone at BKR has been immensely rewarding, both professionally and personally.''

Theriault drives for Brad Keselowski Racing, and the team has said it will field trucks next year for Tyler Reddick and Daniel Hemric.

Theriault appeared in eight races for BKR this season, with top-five finishes.

''I am certain that the injury will not effect my plans for 2016,'' Theriault tweeted. ''Unfortunately, due to lack of sponsorship, I don't have any full time opportunities. Staying positive is one of the lessons I've learned in life so far and especially the past few weeks.

''So I remain encouraged that we will partner with the right sponsors, and the right racing opportunities will open up.''

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