Harris: Gordon Is Having Break Problems
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Jeff Gordon used to win races in bunches.
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has racked up 82 victories, sixth on the all-time win list.
As recently as the 2007 season, he won six times. But checkered flags haven’t come easily for Gordon in a while. His only victory in the past two seasons came last spring at Texas.
It looked like the drought would end on Monday at Martinsville when Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, running 1-2 late in the race, were brought into the pits during a caution, leaving Gordon in the lead with only a handful of laps remaining on the half-mile track.
Gordon easily stayed out front on the restart, but another yellow flag forced a green-white-checker overtime session.
On the final restart, Matt Kenseth got into the rear of Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet with a classic bump-and-run maneuver and zoomed past into the lead. Gordon retaliated, slamming into Kenseth, whose Ford then drifted up the track as the leaders roared past.
But Gordon was done, relegated to third when Hamlin, sporting two fresh tires, and Joey Logano, another Gibbs entry, drove past.
Despite his calm demeanor and smooth words, it was obvious Gordon was not pleased.
“The 17 got into the back of me,” The feisty Gordon said. “I made sure he wasn’t going to win the race after that.”
“I guess it looked like it was my fault,” Kenseth acknowledged. “I did go in there and I did get into Jeff a little bit, really not that hard, and I got under him and everything was fine. Then he just took a left as hard as he could take one and ran me down all the way into the marbles.
“It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I’d go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake.”
Gordon wound up third, while Kenseth slipped all the way to 18th.
Gordon said he was probably just meant to finish third.
“We were just kind of riding there at the end, going to come home third,’’ he said. “Then that caution came out, leaders came in. Steve Letarte made a great call to stay out. When we heard about all the cars that stayed out behind us, we felt we were definitely the car to beat for the win.
“Then we had the restart. Had a good restart. Everything was great. We were a hundred feet away from getting that white flag, getting the victory. So that’s frustrating. But I shouldn’t be too upset. We were a third place car before that (and) we finished third.’’
Gordon said after the race that he didn’t know it was Kenseth’s No. 17 that hit him on the final restart.
“I looked at my mirror, 17 was pretty far behind me,’’ he explained. “I made sure I didn’t drive in too deep. Next thing I know, I got nailed. I don’t know who got into me. I thought it was the 17. If it wasn’t, I apologize to him. I made sure he didn’t win the race down the straightaway.’’
Gordon hasn’t won a Cup title since 2001, goes into the rare off weekend seventh in the season points and still very much among the drivers with a chance to knock his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson off the top of the hill that he has held for four straight years.
And Gordon, who has dominated at times this season without winning, isn’t concerned with bad breaks.
“I feel like you have to earn those things,’’ he said. “If we just keep working hard, putting good race cars and a great race team out there each and every week, those breaks go your way.
“I’ve been on both sides of it. There’s times when you’re not really sure if you deserve some of those breaks, but you know you’re working hard, you take them. There’s times when you wish you got more breaks.’’
But a little bitterness did seep into his words when asked about the final caution flag that sent the race into overtime.
“It was pretty obvious to me NASCAR wanted to do a green-white-checker finish,’’ Gordon said. “There were cars blowing tires, hitting the wall and they weren’t throwing the caution. One spins out, and they threw the caution in the blink of an eye. I think it was pretty obvious what they wanted.
“You got to go with what their decisions are. It’s a Monday race. A lot of fans came out. So certainly a great finish for them. Just unfortunate it took away an opportunity for us because we definitely had that win had the caution not come out there at the end.
“Then again, you look at the Gibbs cars,’’ he added. “They were 1 2 when the caution came out. You know, that could have gone the opposite way for them. So you can’t really get upset when those breaks don’t go your way.’’
Just another day at the office for Gordon. And, despite the disappointment, the longtime Cup star remains in good position for a run at another title.
Still, another win or two would probably make it all a little more satisfying.
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment