For the first time since 1996, Jeff Gordon began a NASCAR season with consecutive finishes below 30th place. In his final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gordon was running 10th when he was caught up in a crash on lap 257. He slid toward the inside wall on the backstretch and made contact with a concrete wall. Gordon was credited with a 41st place finish, on the heels of 33rd place last week at Daytona.
Gordon started 35th and gained 10 spots in the first 10 laps of the race. His progress slowed as he moved to 23rd by lap 16. Gordon entered the top-20 on lap 21 and ran 18th when the competition caution waved on lap 25. Pit stops followed with Gordon restarting in 19th place on lap 30. He moved up to 15th within 5 laps of the green flag and ran in 13th when a debris caution slowed the field on lap 46. Pit stops followed and Gordon restarted 12th. He gained a spot and ran 11th when the caution waved on lap 61 for Austin Dillon’s cut tire and subsequent spin. Pit stops ensued with Gordon exiting in 13th place. He entered the top-10 on lap 85 with a move around Ryan Newman, and took 9th from David Ragan one lap later. Landon Cassill’s engine brought out the caution on lap 95. Gordon held the 9th spot through the round of pit stops. On the restart, Gordon used the inside line to his advantage and moved to 8th. He took 7th from Carl Edwards on lap 109, and dispatched of Kasey Kahne on lap 112. However, Jimmie Johnson went by to send Gordon back to 7th on lap 120. He faded back to 8th on lap 124 after Edwards passed. Three laps later, Kahne went by to send Gordon to 9th place. He slipped out of the top-10 on lap 131 prior to a round of green flag pit stops.
Following the cycle of stops, Gordon ran in 13th place. He was up to 11th when a debris caution slowed the field on lap 176. He held the 11th spot through the round of pit stops. On the restart, Gordon dropped to 17th before a debris caution on lap 182. He moved up to 15th, but handling issues prevented him from making headway during the next run. Gordon came to pit road for a green flag stop on lap 225, and cycled through in 13th place. He was running 12th when a debris caution slowed the field with 73 to go. Gordon gained 3 spots on pit road and restarted in 10th. On lap 257, Denny Hamlin got loose and lost control coming off turn 2. He clipped Jamie McMurray who slid up the track into Gordon’s path. The #24 car made contact with the backstretch wall, and slid into the retaining wall on the infield.
“I saw the 11 (Denny Hamlin) get sideways. I had him cleared. I stood in the gas and went by him. But I guess he clipped the 1 (Jamie McMurray), and that turned the 1 back into me. After that I was just along for the ride… sent me down the back straightaway. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but I found that one spot where there’s no SAFER barrier. I can’t believe it. That’s amazing to me. Anyway, hopefully soon that’ll get fixed. It was a pretty big impact. I just hate it for this team. We were struggling. We didn’t have the car I thought we were going to have. But we weren’t giving up on it. We were going to make gains and we finally got ourselves in the top-10. I think we had a shot at getting in the top-5. But obviously not the way we wanted to start our season.”
source: Jeff Gordon Online
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