March 2009 Random News

Peaking Too Soon
March 30 - - Jeff Gordon led 147 laps in the Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway but came away with a less than satisfying 4th place finish after battling a tight handling car over the final 200 laps. Three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson claimed the victory with a late bump pass on Denny Hamlin. Johnson's 41st career win puts him more than halfway toward Gordon's career total.

Gordon started on the pole and led the first 22 green flag laps before Michael Waltrip's spin brought out the caution flag. He continued to lead until the competition caution on lap 40. After pitting, he restarted 3rd due to Scott Speed and Robby Gordon pitting under the earlier caution period. On the restart, Gordon took 2nd within a lap and closed in on Speed for the race lead. He re-assumed the top spot on lap 57 with a pass on Speed entering turn three. The second caution waved for Kyle Busch's spin entering turn three on lap 71. Gordon elected to remain on track with the lead. The next caution came on lap 91 for Robby Gordon's spin after a cut tire. Once again, Gordon stayed on the track to keep the preferred track position. Denny Hamlin began to close in on Gordon for the race lead before the fifth caution on lap 139. Gordon came to pit road for four tires and barely beat Hamlin to the stripe after departing his pit box. However, Hamlin was able to take the lead from Gordon on lap 157. Tony Stewart then took 2nd from Gordon on lap 170 as the DuPont Chevrolet became extremely tight entering the corners-- a typical condition for the mid-stages of a race at Martinsville.

As the race neared the halfway point, Gordon passed Stewart to take over 2nd place on lap 226. The sixth caution waved on lap 255 for Scott Speed's cut tire. Gordon came in for his second pit stop of the day and departed in 2nd position behind Hamlin. He ran in 2nd and eventually closed in when Hamlin battled lapped traffic. Gordon took the lead from Hamlin on lap 344, before Hamlin came back and re-assumed the lead five laps later. Jimmie Johnson then passed Gordon and took 2nd on lap 350 before a debris caution slowed the field. On the restart, Gordon used a pick from the lapped car of Carl Edwards to take 2nd from Johnson. The sun came through the clouds and the handling on Gordon's car suffered. Johnson bided his time and passed Gordon on lap 420. Clint Bowyer took 3rd on lap 423 and Tony Stewart took 4th on lap 425. Gordon began sliding backward at the wrong time in the race. A caution for Jeremy Mayfield's cut tire brought the leaders to pit road with 70 laps to go. Gordon departed in 5th place as his teammate Johnson assumed the lead off of pit road. On the restart, Gordon got caught behind lapped cars and fell further behind the top-four drivers. Aric Almirola's spin with 54 laps to go slowed the field and allowed Gordon to close up once again on the leaders. On the restart, Hamlin took the lead from Johnson, while Gordon had to deal with lapped traffic back in 5th position. Gordon eventually cleared the lapped traffic and took 4th place from Bowyer with 38 laps to go.

David Reuitimann's spin with 34 laps to go slowed the field. Johnson bumped his way around Hamlin in turn three as both drivers skated up to the track. Johnson pulled away for his 5th win in his last 6 starts at Martinsville and the 41st win of his career.

Jeff Gordon post-race comments:

"Looking back on it now, that little bit of practice we got on Friday probably hurt us because it was a little bit different right-side tire that Goodyear brought here and we were really loose on Friday. So we tightened it up a bunch and I just never could really get the car through the middle (of the turn). I was good in clean air and there at the beginning when it rubbered up, we were just too tight. Jimmie (Johnson) is just so good. That whole team is just so good, and so is Denny (Hamlin). I was just really impressed with him today. We were the third best car. Unfortunately on that last restart, I just couldn't get around the lapped cars and catch Tony (Stewart). But still another great top 5 for the DuPont Chevrolet and a heck of a race for the win and I think the fans certainly got a great show. I'm thankful for them to come out here at Martinsville. So now we'll leave the short tracks and go to Texas. We seem to be better at those tracks than we are at short tracks. I'm looking forward to seeing what we have there."

YOU HAD AN AWESOME RACE CAR THERE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE RACE, HOW MUCH DID THE TRACK CHANGING CHANGE YOUR CAR? "Yeah it changed quite a bit. That's what we were afraid of. We were so good in practice on Friday that it seemed like the tires were going loose. The set up that we went to was just so strong in practice that it was hard to get away from it. Now looking back on it a little bit of practice only hurt us. You know Jimmie (Johnson) is so good here. He really has just dominated and taken a hold of this place. Both he and Denny (Hamlin). I was real impressed with Denny today as well. We were the third best car with the DuPont Chevrolet and I was hoping that number one pit stall we could take advantage of it. On the long runs we lost the handle on it that one time. We were great there on the short runs just couldn't do anything on the outside there. Great run, great team effort and another great top-five for this DuPont Chevrolet. As always at Martinsville the fans here are the best. I've got to thank all of them for coming out today. I think they saw a great race."

WHEN YOU SLIPPED FROM SECOND TO FIFTH LATE IN THE RACE, WERE YOU JUST HANGING ON? "No, just making adjustments and got off there at the end. Me and Jimmie (Johnson) got to racing and he was in a hurry to get to the front and I came up on some lapped cars and didn't clear them as quick as I wanted to. Once he got underneath me, it pushed me to the outside and I wasn't very good on the outside. Then a train of them came. We were better than that. That was pretty much the end of our race at that point. That number one pit stall can help you but it can't take your from fifth to first. It might be able to take you from fifth to third or something like that. I knew if we were second or third coming in the pits, we had a shot at winning the race just by the pit location and my pit crew. We just slipped back that one time, we were just real tight all day once the rubber laid down on the track just way too tight in the middle of the corner."

WHAT IS NEXT STEP FOR THIS TEAM TO CLOSE THE DEAL ON A WIN? "It is great to run in the top-five but if we are going to contend for the championship especially in those final 10 races, we got to start winning races. I am not really concerned with this streak of how many wins we haven't had in a row. I am more concerned with what we have to do this year to win races and win this championship. You certainly don't want to give that No. 48 momentum. I know that we are capable of winning. We have a team capable of it. I thought we were going to do a lot better than we were today."

HEADING TO TEXAS, YOUR THOUGHTS. "I am actually looking forward to going to Texas and see how good this stuff that we have been running at the other mile and a halfs that has worked so well that we almost won with and see what we can do at Texas. I am not concerned about Texas. I am a little more concerned about the fact that we didn't run better here today at Martinsville."

The Long Run
March 22 - - Another week and another solid finish for Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, it was not the long-awaited victory he was hoping for as he posted a 4th place finish in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Gordon's undoing was the long green flag runs during the race where the handling on his car became tight.

Gordon started 10th and used the outside groove to gain three spots in the opening seven laps. His forward progress continued as he entered the top-5 with an inside pass on David Reutimann on lap 20. A caution for John Andretti's spin on lap 27 brought Gordon to pit road for two tires. He restarted in 9th place after seven cars stayed on the track. Gordon dropped a spot to Ryan Newman before following Newman up to the 7th position on lap 50. A caution for Todd Bodine's wreck-- after getting squeezed into the wall by Michael Waltrip-- brought the caution out on lap 61. Gordon came to pit road for a four tire change. However, a dropped lug nut on the left side resulted in Gordon losing spots on pit road. He restarted back in 15th position on lap 67.

On the restart, the four-tire change started paying immediate dividends as Gordon used the outside groove to gain three spots by lap 79. However, his momentum stalled as he only gained one spot over the next 30 laps and ran 11th on lap 110. Juan Pablo Montoya went around Gordon and dropped him to 12th on lap 113. Jamie McMurray's spin (off of Montoya's front bumper) on lap 126 brought out a caution as Gordon barely skirted by the spinning car at the bottom of the track. The caution brought the field to pit road for tires. Gordon exited in 6th place after a quick four-tire change. He lost a spot to Newman on lap 143 and remained in 7th until a caution for McMurray's second spin of the race on lap 188. The leaders came to pit road with Gordon exiting in 4th position.

Gordon was no match for Marcos Ambrose who went around him a few laps after the restart. He settled into 5th and ran there at the halfway point. As the long run continued, Gordon's handling deteriorated and he dropped to 8th with a tight handling car on lap 300. Mark Martin passed on the inside to push Gordon back to 9th on lap 307. A caution for Brian Vickers' cut tire brought the field to pit road on lap 322. Gordon opted for four tires and a track bar adjustment and departed the pits in 7th place. Newman took a spot from Gordon on lap 385 as shade enveloped half of the track. Jeff Burton dropped Gordon to 9th with 85 laps remaining as the handling on the DuPont Chevrolet once again deteriorated on the long run. Kevin Harvick's cut tire with 59 laps to go brought out a caution flag and all of the lead lap cars came to pit road. Gordon gained three spots and restarted in 6th place.

Gordon took 5th from Martin with 30 laps to go, but remained distantly behind the leaders. He took 4th from Kasey Kahne with 8 laps to go and then closed up on the leaders due to a caution flag for Joey Logano's blown engine. A green/white/checkered flag finish. Gordon closed the door on Kahne on the restart and finished a distant fourth to race winner Kyle Busch who dominated the day.

Retro Pepsi On Tap
March 17 - - The year was 1983 when Darrell Waltrip took to the track in the Pepsi Challenger Chevrolet. Waltrip had won back-to-back titles and was trying for three in a row when PepsiCo changed the primary sponsor on his car from Mountain Dew to its signature brand before the season. Waltrip failed to win the title that year (which made an 8-year-old Bobby Allison fan very happy!). At Talladega, Jeff Gordon will go retro with Waltrip's 1983 paint scheme on his car.
Images: Pepsi Chevrolets 1983/2009

European Vacation
March 17 - - Jeff Gordon and his family took advantage of a rare off-weekend during the season and visited Belgium, the native country of his wife Ingrid Vandebosch. Although the weather was far from ideal with cold rain peppering the days, he visited two of the country's racetracks -- Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Circuit Zolder. During an interview, he addressed the length of the racing season, the global economic recession, and his racing resurgence in 2009.
Video: Jeff interviewed in Belgium

Honors From The Boy Scouts
March 9 - - Jeff Gordon has been selected to receive Boy Scouts of America's highest honor for his efforts in the BSA's national recruiting program as well as his personal humanitarian work. The commendation, known as the Silver Buffalo award, will be presented at the annual Boy Scout Leadership Dinner at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center on March 24.

Knocking On The Door
March 8 - - Jeff Gordon once again got agonizingly close to a victory only to be denied by a driver who was just slightly faster when the race was on the line. Gordon's runner-up finish in the Kobalt 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway increased his points lead, but stretched his winless streak to 44 races. Gordon started 16th in the silver and black National Guard Chevrolet and moved up three spots in the first 10 laps. After a caution flag pit stp on lap 14, Gordon took off into the top-10. By lap 20, he had worked up to 9th place. Gordon took 6th from Ryan Newman on lap 30, and five laps later he entered the top-5 with a pass on Jimmie Johnson. Gordon made a green flag pit stop on lap 66 before a caution flag trapped him a lap down. He stayed on the track and restarted in 9th at the tail end of the lead lap. Bobby Labonte's spin on lap 105 slowed the field and put Gordon back in sync with the leaders. He made headway on the restart and moved to 5th on lap 113. He dropped a position to Mark Martin on lap 144 as he battled a loose handling condition. A caution on lap 156 allowed Gordon to come to pit road for adjustments. He gained three spots on pit road and restarted in 3rd place. On the restart, Gordon moved to 2nd with a pass on Clint Bowyer. He challenged Kurt Busch for the lead but was unable to procure the top spot. Under caution with 138 to go, Gordon lost a spot on pit road to Johnson. However, he regained the spot immediately after the restart. Gordon took the lead from Busch just before a caution for Sam Hornish's cut tire with 121 laps to go. He held the lead through the caution flag pit stops. However, Busch regained the lead with 75 laps to go after running down Gordon. A debris caution with 67 to go brought the leaders to pit road. Gordon lost two spots after a dropped lug nut on the left rear and restarted in 4th. He took 3rd from Bowyer with 50 to go, and passed Edwards on the final green/white/checkered finish to take 2nd. However, he was unable to run down race winner Kurt Busch. "This race team has really stepped it up," Gordon said. "We've had small issues, but we're going to win races. We're getting close. We'll keep knocking on the door until we get to victory lane."

Mental Floss
March 1 - - Jeff Gordon seemed destined for a top-three finish in the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, a mental mistake with 65 laps to go wound up costing him a solid finish. Gordon missed pit road, flat spotted his tire, and wound up shredding the left front tire and the fender on the DuPont Chevrolet. Nevertheless, he rallied in the closing stages to post a solid 6th place finish.

Gordon started 28th and moved up to 23rd before the first caution for Brad Keselowski's spin on lap 2. After winning the first two races of the season, Matt Kenseth saw his hopes for three in a row go up in smoke with a blown engine on lap 6. Kenseth's points lead evaporated with his last place finish. Gordon entered the top-20 on lap 14 and took 19th from Dale Earnhardt Jr on lap 20. As the field settled into a long green flag run, Gordon made headway toward the front. He advanced to 13th by lap 30 and entered the top-10 on lap 42. Gordon came in for a green flag pit stop on lap 53 and ran 9th after the pit stop sequence. He held the position until David Ragan's blown engine brought the field to pit road on lap 77. The DuPont crew changed two tires and gained five spots on pit road. He restarted in 4th position on lap 83 and closed in on the leaders who opted for fuel only on the stops. Gordon passed Tony Stewart for 3rd on lap 87, and took the runner-up spot with a pass on Kevin Harvick three laps later.

David Stremme's spin on lap 95 slowed the field and Gordon came to pit road for fuel only. He restarted in 3rd behind Greg Biffle and Mark Martin who both elected to stay on the track. Gordon immediately dispatched Martin on the restart but was unable to close on Biffle for the race lead. The caution waved on lap 121 for Mark Martin's blown engine-- the second straight week Martin had a DNF due to an engine problem. The field came to pit road with Gordon leaving in 2nd place after a four-tire change. He remained in 2nd behind Jimmie Johnson through a series of mid-race caution periods.

Gordon got a run off of turn four on lap 149 and took the lead from Johnson. By leading lap 160, Gordon became the 7th driver to lead 20,000 laps in his Cup series career. Michael Waltrip's spin on lap 164 brought the field to pit road under caution. A four-tire change followed and Gordon left the pits in 6th position due to several drivers opting for two tires. He dropped to 7th on the restart as Johnson legally passed on the outside coming to the green flag. Gordon regrouped and moved up to 5th on lap 180. He took 4th place with 70 to go, but distantly trailed the leaders.

With 65 laps to go, Gordon made a mental error and locked up the tires trying to get to pit road. He missed the pit road entrance and wound up cutting a tire within one lap due to flat spotting. The tire shredded and tore apart the left front fender on the car-- which effectively ended any chance of victory. The DuPont team patched the fender in an attempt to make repairs. Gordon restarted in 13th and moved to 11th with 50 laps to go. He entered the top-10 with 40 to go and would have been one of the few cars who could have made it all the way on fuel. A caution flag with 26 laps to go brought the field to pit road and Gordon opted for fuel only, which moved him up to 2nd place. Gordon was a sitting duck for Kyle Busch who passed on the outside on the restart. He lost two more positions before a caution for Paul Menard's wreck with 18 laps to go slowed the field and set up a restart. Johnson got up high in turns one and two and spun into the wall to bring out a caution and set up a restart with 3 laps to go. Gordon battled a tight handling condition and couldn't make further headway. He hung on for a 6th place finish. Busch got a strong restart and led the final laps for his first victory of the season.

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