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Thursday’s roundup: Gordon honored by Indiana town

Associated Press

Pittsboro, Ind. — Jeff Gordon felt right at home Thursday back in small-town Indiana.

His parents, some of his longtime friends and even some of his former high school teachers were among hundreds of people lining the streets in Pittsboro to celebrate Gordon as he wraps up his final full-time season in NASCAR.

It was a fitting place for the biggest stop yet on his farewell tour.

Here, a short drive from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon honed his racing skills before he was old enough to obtain a driver’s license. Here, he learned the importance of balancing weekend races with daily life. And now, three days before driving in his final Brickyard 400, Gordon came back to a community full of tall corn stalks, endless farming fields and dozens of mementoes bearing his well-known No. 24 to thank his biggest fans.

“This is very cool,” Gordon said after participating in the short parade and brief awards ceremony. “Pittsboro is obviously very memorable to me because we lived here, raced out of here. Several years ago, they named Jeff Gordon Boulevard, so there have always been great experiences here. But to come here and have it be my last Brickyard 400, it’s pretty overwhelming. It’s putting a big smile on my face for the weekend.”

The only thing that would make this weekend better would be reaching victory lane Sunday to become the first six-time winner on the speedway’s historic 2.5-mile oval.

While the 43-year-old Gordon is not an Indiana native by birth, he is one of the state’s favorite sons.

His parents moved from California to Pittsboro when Gordon was a rising star on the teenage racing circuit. They wound up in a small, suburban community west of Indy that was willing to support their son’s aspirations along and the importance of Midwestern values.

If Gordon didn’t understand those principles before arriving in Indiana, he did by the time he started racing stock cars.

After winning one race with a daring late move, Gordon’s stepfather forced him to hand the winner’s trophy to the second-place finisher and told him: “That’s not how we race.”

Gordon never made that mistake again and his genteel approach to racing has won over fans throughout Indiana — and beyond.

“I think it’s pride, pride to have somebody from a small town do as good as Jeff’s done and to be the kind of a man, the gentleman that he is,” 78-year-old Pat McClain said.

In Indiana, there couldn’t be a better combination.

From Milan’s Bobby Plump to Martinsville’s John Wooden, from Bedford’s Damon Bailey to Rushville’s Tony Stewart, every little town seems to have a story -- and a celebrity. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler hails from Santa Claus. Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens played prep basketball in Zionsville and college basketball at DePauw in Greencastle. And everyone knows Larry Bird is from French Lick.

But Gordon has become one of the state’s best ambassadors, which is why everyone wanted to share the stage with him Thursday.

Pittsboro Police Chief Christi Patterson named Gordon an honorary police officer and presented him a real badge. Tri-West superintendent Rusty King gave Gordon a plaque of the diploma he earned in 1989 with an inscription that read in part, “to our most famous graduate.”

Town officials handed Gordon the proclamation papers from county and state leaders declaring Thursday as Jeff Gordon Day, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence presented Gordon with the Sagamore of the Wabash award — the highest state honor for a civilian.

“He may not have been born in Indiana. But as his parents told me, he came here as soon as he knew about it,” Pence joked. “He is a Hoosier through and through.”

This year’s farewell tour has included some memorable stops including driving the pace car in May’s Indianapolis 500. The No. 24 will be on the hood of the pace car Sunday, too.

Yet after 92 Sprint Cup wins, four titles and five victories down the road at Indianapolis, the Rainbow Warrior saved his most emotional moments for his hometown crowd.

“This has been one of the best days of my life and I say that sincerely,” Gordon said, his voice cracking, “because I not only get to see what Pittsboro’s meant to me, I get to see what Pittsboro’s meant to you by the way you’ve come out and supported me. This to me is a very, very special day.”

Honors for sniper’s brother

The brother of famed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle will be honored this weekend at the NASCAR race in Indianapolis.

The race at the Brickyard is officially named “The Crown Presents the Jeff Kyle 400.”

Kyle is the brother of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was shot to death at Texas gun range two years ago. Chris Kyle wrote a memoir of his work as a sniper, a book that was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie.

On Friday, Indianapolis will dye a downtown canal purple in Jeff Kyle’s honor as well as for all past and present men and women of the U.S. military. Mayor Gregory Ballard will present Kyle with a proclamation declaring that July 24 will be “Jeff Kyle Day” in Indianapolis. The canal will remain purple all weekend.

Rosberg motivated to catch Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s highly impressive record at the Hungarian Grand Prix gives Nico Rosberg extra motivation as he tries to close the gap on his Mercedes teammate in the Formula One title race.

After nine races, Rosberg sits 17 points behind Hamilton, the championship leader. With Mercedes dominant in qualifying and ultra-reliable on the track, margins for taking back points are small.

Rosberg gained significant confidence before the British Grand Prix three weeks ago, heading there with three wins from the previous four races, only for defending champion Hamilton to check his momentum with an impressive win in the driving rain of Silverstone.

No rain is likely Sunday at the Hungaroring, with temperatures expected to exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), and where Rosberg must turn up the heat on Hamilton.

Ericsson, Nasr sign with Sauber

Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian Felipe Nasr can build on a promising first season together with both drivers handed new contracts with Sauber for next year.

Nasr impressed from the outset in his first Formula One campaign, securing fifth place at the Australian Grand Prix in his first race.

“The team has put a lot of trust in me. We had some great results and we can do something promising for 2016,” Nasr said. “We’re trying to develop the car as much as we can. By having this confirmation early on, I think we can start thinking now about 2016 and I think there are more positive things coming.”

It also ends speculation that the 22-year-old Nasr, formerly a reserve driver for Williams, was being lined up as a possible replacement for Valtteri Bottas at Williams next year — in the advent that Bottas might get the coveted Ferrari seat if veteran Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen’s contract is not extended.

Nasr has 16 points in this year’s championship and is 11th in the drivers’ standings, scoring points in three of nine races so far. Ericsson has five and is 16th.

Ericsson is competing in his second F1 season after driving last year for Caterham, which is now defunct.

“I’m very happy that the Sauber F1 Team has put its trust in my potential for another year,” said the 24-year-old Ericsson. “I am getting to know everyone within the team more and more, and feel I am being appreciated as a valuable driver.”

The Sauber team’s announcement on Thursday comes before the Hungary Grand Prix weekend and ahead of the series’ summer break.

“We are pleased about the extension of the contracts with Marcus and Felipe,” Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said. “This early point in time shows that the drivers and the team are sure they are heading in the right direction… Both have shown solid performances, gained experience and learnt quickly.”

Sauber is seventh in the constructors’ championship, with 21 points.