Jeff Gordon took a step toward the third round of the Chase with a second place effort under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Gordon finished where he started the event behind pole sitter (and race winner) Kevin Harvick. Heading into Talladega, Gordon has an 18 point cushion on the Chase cutoff as the second round concludes in Alabama. Gordon started on the outside of the front row and ran in 2nd behind Kyle Busch for the first 13 laps. He took the race lead from Busch on lap 14 and pulled away until the competition caution on lap 25. He exited pit road after a four tire change in 4th place after two drivers opted for two tires. On the restart, Gordon made quick work of Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr and moved to 2nd behind Busch. He re-assumed the top spot by passing Busch on lap 38. Gordon kept the race lead over Kevin Harvick through a round of green flag pit stops on lap 75. The next caution came on lap 95 after Clint Bowyer’s engine expired. Gordon again opted for four tires and restarted in 3rd place. He took 2nd from Jamie McMurray on lap 111, but ran 3 seconds behind Harvick. A caution on lap 135 for Paul Menard’s engine brought the leaders to pit road. Gordon restarted in 2nd along side Harvick on lap 144, but fell to 4th on the inside line. He came to pit road for a green flag stop on lap 190 while battling a tight handling issue.
Following stops, Gordon ran in 5th place behind Harvick, McMurray, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Larson. A caution for Josh Wise’s engine on lap 222 brought the lead lap cars to pit road. He restarted in 5th place, but struggled on the inside and dropped to 9th on lap 228. Brian Vickers’ spin on lap 237 brought the caution. Pit stops ensued with Gordon opting for 2 tires. He restarted in 7th place on lap 242. The next caution came on lap 245 when Joey Logano spun Danica Patrick in turn 4. Gordon again restarted 7th on the inside line. He ran 8th when the next caution waved on lap 266. After pit stops, Gordon restarted 9th on lap 270. He moved to 7th within a lap of the restart, and took 6th from Kyle Busch. He re-entered the top-5 on lap 284 by passing Brad Keselowski. Three laps later he took 4th from Jimmie Johnson. With 39 to go, he passed Kyle Larson to take over 3rd. Gordon then tracked down and passed Denny Hamlin for the runner-up spot with 31 to go.
Gordon’s final green flag stop came with 22 laps to go. He had to deal with traffic coming off the pit lane and dropped 6 seconds behind Harvick for the race lead. Brian Vickers’ engine brought out the caution with 7 laps to go. Gordon lined up next to Harvick for the restart with 3 to go. He was unable to make headway on the inside line and finished the event in 2nd place. It was his first top-3 finish at Charlotte since he claimed the victory in October 2007 — a span of 14 races.
Gordon restarted in 9th place on lap 270. The car came to life on the short run, which put Gordon in position to challenge for the victory.
“I’m really proud of that effort. Kevin got out there on us after that last green flag stop. I didn’t want to see another restart because every time we start on the inside we seemed to lose positions. We were just trying to tune to make it better. We got off a little bit and lost some track position. I had some terrible restarts. At the end, four tires and good adjustments, good restarts, and we were able to get right up in the thick of it. Kevin was tough. I knew when he got out front that he was going to be hard to beat him. This new format has created some serious drama. I’m happy about this 2nd place. It doesn’t make us by any means very comfortable going into next week, but it’s a lot better than it could have been.”
“We had a great start to the race and got up there and took the lead from Kyle. I was pretty happy with my car, but rubber was laying down and track conditions were changing. We were trying to make some adjustments to keep up with it. I thought we made a really good adjustment, were able to keep the lead, and then we kind of lost a little bit of track position. We started on the inside there and just lost some positions and kind of fought it from there, tried to make some adjustments to make it better and it made it a little bit worse. But we stuck with it and finally there at the end we got a little bit out of cycle, some guys on two tires versus four tires. We put four tires on and made a really good adjustment to the car and were able to drive up through there all the way back to second and kind of closing on Kevin but just couldn’t get close enough to him and then that green flag stop, it was kind of disastrous for us from the cars that were pitting and a bunch of other things that went on. We just didn’t have some of the things that we needed to go a little bit better go our way. But really, really strong finish there to come back second, so I’m really proud of that.”
In New Hampshire, you talked a little bit about the danger potentially of having to go into Talladega with all the craziness that can happen there with your fates at hand. I wanted you to elaborate on that, and I wondered how much or how little the potential to have a huge race in Talladega factored into the way you dealt with the race today?
“Yeah, I think everybody was pushing hard and now how much was on the line, not just this weekend but last weekend. A win in this particular round, if you want to call it, nobody wants to deal with Talladega. Everybody would like to take the weekend off there if they could. Two guys in some ways get to, and the rest of us are going to have to go race there. We’ve got a little bit of a cushion but not near enough to be comfortable by any means. We’ll go and race the way we normally do there, which is just try to be smart, try to stay out of the mess and then put ourselves in a good position to get a good finish, hope it works out. But yeah, the format is definitely creating a lot of drama, a lot of intensity, a lot of pressure, and each round seems to intensify that much more. Today’s performance by us was huge and crucial, I think, because we do at least have a much bigger buffer than some other guys do. There’s going to be some guys that really have to win at that race and that have to maybe get a top 5 or make up a lot of points. Certainly these last two weeks have shaken things up quite a bit. I like our chances. I think we’ve got an excellent race team, and I really hope we can make it through Talladega because I think the next round suits us very, very well.
The final caution, did that pump you up thinking, okay, I’ve got another shot at this victory, or was it more pressure, worried that you might lose second place to someone?
“I would have liked it if Kevin decided to give me a shot and start on the inside. That would have got me pumped up. But I lost positions every single restart on the inside. I think I started on the outside once and made positions up and every other one I was on the inside and lost positions. I was thankful to be in that position. I knew our car was really good right then and I just didn’t want to spin the tires, and I knew Jamie was really good on the outside there. He got by me on the outside on a previous restart. I was just hoping that that clean air I had on the nose that the car would stick on the bottom, and it stuck pretty good. I got a good start and was able to fall in behind Kevin. At that point I was just kind of settling for second because my car just wasn’t doing what I needed it to do to make any move on him.”
Is this Chase turning into some bizarre psychological experiment? Seems like people are kind of coming unbolted here as you get down to these rounds.
“I mean, there’s a lot on the line. It’s not an experiment. It’s just the new format, I think we all knew would make the emotions get out of whack by who’s in, who’s out, who’s on the bubble, how your races are going. When you have just these three-race segments and then they clean the slate and start all over, it creates a lot of drama, and I think they knew that going in, and that’s why they did it. It’s going to shake things up from here on out. It’s going to make this championship that much tougher to win. It’s going to make it tough to make it to Homestead, and especially because you’re not just racing the other guys in the Chase, you’re also racing everybody out there, and they’re all racing hard, wanting to win races, as well, wanting to get good finishes for many different reasons. Everybody is pushing extremely hard. You throw in a green-white-checkered restart, and there’s your drama, and there’s already a lot on the line and emotions running high, then you do that, and you have guys on four tires, guys on no tires, it’s going to make things crazy. It’s only going to intensify from here on out.”
I’m just curious what is your team’s mindset heading to Talladega. You’re still not locked into the Chase. Was it a sense of relief for tonight even though you didn’t get the victory?
“My first question when I got out of the car was how many points did we gain or where are we at, 17 up on ninth, I guess. That is not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that we were 35 or 38 or something like that up on ninth. But we knew that that was going to be tough to do. We’re going to have to just go race Talladega, which isn’t a bad thing. I don’t like leaving things up to chance, which happens a lot of times at Talladega, but at the same time if it’s meant to be, we go race hard and do what we need to do to try to win that race, and if it’s meant to be for us to move on to the next round, we’ll find out. If our team is good enough, if our cars are good enough, which I think we are, we’ll go through to the next round.”
You’re a guy who doesn’t lose his temper very often. How mad would Matt Kenseth have to be to do that?
“Yeah, he must have been pretty mad. I think Matt is a pretty calm and collected guy. Over the years he and I have had our incidents but that was because I was mad. I don’t think he was mad at me. I can’t remember. I wrecked him one time and I don’t remember him being mad at me that much.”
He wrecked you more than once
“Yeah. And he’s never come and tried to put a headlock on me. We usually talk it out. Obviously there was some built-up animosity towards Brad. I’d better hold the rest of my thoughts back to myself.”
source: Jeff Gordon Online
Run Time: 17:31
File Size: 2mb
MP3 Download – with spotter chatter
Run Time: 33:39
File Size: 3.9mb