The first race in the Chase for the Championship was a struggle for Jeff Gordon and the DuPont team. After battling handling issues for the balance of the day, Gordon ran out of gas with 2 laps to go and finished 24th in the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. It was his lowest finish in a Chase opening race as he had previously scored all top-15’s in Chase openers. He fell from 3rd to 11th in the series standings and trails Kevin Harvick by 25 points — essentially more than half of a race.
Gordon started 23rd and battled a tight handling condition right off the bat. He dropped to 27th by the time the competition caution waved at lap 30. He fell as low as 29th on lap 45, before rallying back to 23rd on lap 70. A debris caution allowed for trackbar adjustments, and Gordon moved into the top-20 on lap 80. He was running 17th on lap 110 when he felt the right front tire going down. He came to pit road and lost a lap. However, the unscheduled stop didn’t hurt him as the field cycled through a green flag pit sequence a few laps later. Neverthless, he battled loose handling and lost a lap as Carl Edwards went by on lap 126. Gordon put himself in position for the free pass by being the first car one lap down. He received it on lap 164 when the caution waved for Jamie McMurray’s engine.
With 100 laps to go, he restarted 21st and moved up to 14th place with 65 laps to go. Gordon gained two spots on pit road and restarted 12th with 59 to go. He dropped a spot before a debris caution with 53 to go. Gordon took gas only on pit road and restarted 12th with 51 to go — at the edge of his fuel window. He dropped back to 16th with 30 laps to go as he began conserving fuel. He dropped to 17th place with 5 laps to go. Gordon ran out of fuel on the final lap and finished two laps down in 24th place.
Road ahead: The second race of the Chase takes the NASCAR Cup series to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Gordon’s flat track performance has remained steady throughout the 2011 season — as he posted strong efforts at Phoenix and Loudon earlier this year.
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