Front To Back, Back To Front
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (March 31) – - Jeff Gordon came away with a hard-fought 2nd place finish in the Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway. He started on the pole but an early race collision sent him tumbling back to 33rd place. He eventually worked his way to the lead, but was simply outmanuevered on pit strategy as Denny Hamlin opted for only fuel on the final pit stop. The track position gamble paid off as Hamlin held off Gordon to win his fourth career race. Gordon started on the pole and led until a cycle of pit stops on lap 49. Shortly after the restart, he hit the rear of Scott Riggs' car in a chain reaction crash on the frontstretch. The front end damage forced Gordon to pit road for repairs. He restarted 33rd and began making his way through traffic. By lap 100, he was up to 22nd. He entered the top-10 on lap 150, and took 3rd from Dale Earnhardt Jr on lap 195. He patiently waited for an opportunity to re-assume the lead and took the top spot from Jimmie Johnson on lap 270. The final pit stops came on lap 396. Hamlin beat Gordon off pit road and set sail at the front of the field. Gordon passed cars for position on the pit stop cycle in the closing stages, but couldn't get closer than two car lengths when the checkered flag waved. "[Hamlin] definitely had the right strategy," Gordon said. "My car just never would go on the last two sets of tires. It was a handful and I was trying to hold on. It started coming to me a little bit. Luckily it was a long run at the end and made a great effort out of it. We had such an awesome car the first half of the race. It was a great effort."
Leading The Charge
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (March 31) – - Jeff Gordon claimed the pole position for Sunday's Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway. It is Gordon's second pole of the season and 65th of his career -- the most in NASCAR's modern era (post-1972). Though he is mired 14th in the series standings, there's no better place to turn things around than the half-mile track in southern Virginia where he's scored ten straight top-10 finishes. He's also collected 7 of his 81 career wins at the track. His biggest advantage on Sunday will be the first pit stall around the curve in turn one. "All you are worried about is getting to that line, not far off of pit road," Gordon said. "You are driving straight; you don't have to go around anybody. Obviously, the biggest concern and goal being in that stall, is making sure you are ahead of the guy that is in the pit stall behind you, which is usually the case that good cars will pick that pit stall as well. We might not have always had that first pit stall, but we typically have had good pit stalls here and that makes a big difference. It doesn't necessarily speed up the pit stops, it just allows you to get in and out a lot easier and make up that time right there. It isn't about speed or momentum, it is just getting to that line and I just think, going back to what I was saying, you can have a bad of a pit stop and it won't be as bad. You can have an issue, whatever it may be and be back a little bit further on the track and make up three or four positions or more positions on pit road and not have to worry about trying to make them all up on the race track."
BRISTOL, TN. (March 17) – - Legendary pitcher Satchel Paige once said, "Don't look back because someone might be gaining on you." After five races in 2008, it's clear the advantage Hendrick Motorsports had with the new-look Impala last season was just that: last season. While the HMS cars remain competitive week-to-week, their marked advantage from a year ago where they won half of the races has become a competitive race once again. Thus far, the only consistent storyline for Jeff Gordon has been inconsistent finishes. He continued a "good week/bad week" finish with a relatively ordinary 11th place effort in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Gordon was never a factor for the lead and was saved from going a lap down throughout the day due to well-timed caution flags. He ran the balance of the race toward the end of the lead lap, but rallied as the laps wound down to finish 11th due mainly to attrition in front of him. For the five-time Bristol winner, his day was an exercise in frustration as a tight handling car at the outset never improved. Gordon started second and dropped to 7th by lap 50. After falling to 13th after the 100-lap mark, he pitted for four tires and began a brief charge through traffic. Though his positions gained were due to fresher tires. He re-entered the top-10 on lap 155, but fell to 13th by the halfway point less than 100 laps later. In the second half of the race, he ran 12th-14th. He gained spots in the final laps due to problems by drivers ahead of him.
End Of An Era
BRISTOL, TN. (March 17) – - Dale Jarrett's final points race was the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. He'll wrap up his racing career in the exhibition All-Star Challenge in May. His best years were in the mid-late 90's with Yates Racing, which culminated with a championship in 1999. It had to be disappointing to end his career the way he has-- by driving inferior cars for a struggling race team barely making the show every week. Few drivers had the class that Jarrett did every weekend. He came from a different generation where you weren't handed a Cup series ride just because you were marketable or had a famous last name. Yes, he did have a famous last name, but in no way was that an advantage during his career. He worked his way up through the North Carolina short tracks, failed a few times, and didn't really "make it" until he was in his mid-30's. The way things are in Nascar these days, I wonder if a driver like Dale Jarrett would be able to make it. What car owner would take a chance on a 30-year-old driver whose only real experience came at tracks like Rougemont and Hickory? They simply wouldn't. They'd look for the latest open wheel import or the teenage driver that wasn't even born when DJ thrilled the crowd in the door-to-door finish with Davey Allison at Michigan in 1991. When DJ climbes out of his car for the last time in May, Nascar will lose another part of its distinctive character. And that's a loss for all of us.
DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 11) – - Jeff Gordon echoed some of Tony Stewart's tire criticisms but shot less from the hip than his peer. Stewart said the Atlanta tire was the worst he drove on during his professional racing career, and all but called for Goodyear to exit the NASCAR series. "I think he went a little overboard," Gordon said before a Goodyear tire test at Darlington Raceway. "I talked with Tony a little bit before the race and I could tell he was pretty wound up about it. I don't disagree with him as far as the comfort level in the situation we were in. But we have to look at all sides of this and try to give the folks that are doing their jobs the ability and constructive criticism to try to do it better. He kind of made it personal." Darlington was recently re-paved and the drivers are working with the tire manufacturer to select a tire for the race in May. "I love the new surface," he said. "They took care of all the things I felt were important things to take care of and keep the history and tradition of Darlington. The basic transitions and bankings and walls and everything haven't changed. The bumps are gone and the grip level is high." The track record is expected to be shattered during qualifying for the race as the drivers unofficially hit 200 miles per hour down the backstretch -- an 18 mph increase compared to last year. Greg Biffle (Ford) and Ryan Newman (Dodge) also participated in the tire test at Darlington. The same three drivers will return in a few weeks to test the surface once again.
Work In Progress
HAMPTON, GA. (March 10) – - Jeff Gordon's 5th place finish in the Kobalt 500 was the culmination of a hard day's work. "This was the hardest I've ever had to drive at this track as long as I've been in the (Cup) series," Gordon said. The combination of the new Impala and a less than stellar tire made the day more challenging for the drivers. Gordon started on the pole but couldn't lead the opening lap. He battled a tight handling car in the first 100 laps and fell as low as 7th on lap 70. However, he gained positions on pit road as the first pit stall allowed him to beat several cars off pit road throughout the day. He ran between 4th-7th for the balance of the race as the car's handling went from tight to loose. As the laps wound down, Gordon battled Clint Bowyer for 5th place over the final 20 laps. Gordon wound up winning the mini-battle to claim his second top-5 finish of the season.
Call For Change
PHOENIX, AZ. (March 5) – - Jeff Gordon wrapped up a two-day test session at Phoenix International Raceway on March 4. Gordon's top speeds during the test session were less than stellar. Nevertheless, for this week he's just glad to be able to climb into the race car again after the hardest crash of his NASCAR career last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The crash highlighted the need for a safer barrier on the infield walls, and also highlighted pitiful track construction in the 21st century. In 2006, Jeff Fuller was involved in a wreck during a Busch series race at Kentucky Speedway. The crash was nearly identical to Gordon's wreck at Las Vegas. An opinion piece on Nascar's website highlighted the wall problem. Yet tracks continued to have an obtuse opening in the walls, creating a lethal hazards for the competitors. "That type of hit shouldn't happen," Gordon said. "It's uncalled for. There is no reason why any track we go to should have that. That could have been very bad. I'm just glad it turned out OK." After the 2006 wreck, Fuller virtually mirrored Gordon's comment. "That's not a good place to have an opening like that," Fuller said. "If you need to have one, there needs to be a safer barrier." The question is: Will Nascar finally get the message to the track owners? Lives depend on it.
LAS VEGAS, NV. (March 3) – - Jeff Gordon left Las Vegas like thousands of other visitors in town for the weekend -- disappointed and wondering what might have been. Gordon crashed with just 5 laps remaining in the UAW 400 while going for the win. The result was a 35th place finish and his 2nd DNF in 3 races. Gordon ran a patient race for the first 262 laps. He started 4th and ran in the top-10 nearly all day. He battled handling issues in the early going, but eventually took the lead with a two tire pit stop with less than 100 laps to go. However, he lost the top spot when he changed four tires 20 laps later. As the laps wound down, Gordon looked to have 4th place locked up. A caution with 11 laps to go bunched the field. On the restart with 5 laps remaining, Gordon and Matt Kenseth split Dale Earnhardt Jr to take the position. Coming off turn two, Gordon pulled low on Kenseth trying to take the runner-up spot. He pushed up the track, hit Kenseth, and then spun himself out directly into the infield wall. He dropped from 14th to 22nd in the series standings. This is the lowest in points Gordon has been after 3 races since the 2000 season when he was 23rd after the third event. At the front of the field, Carl Edwards held off Earnhardt Jr. to win his second consecutive race.
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