Taking The Long Way Around
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 29)- - Jeff Gordon knew the 2006 season would be an uphill climb at the outset. But after fighting handling problems virtually all night at Lowes Motor Speedway, the climb seems steeper than it did just a few weeks ago. Gordon battled a tight handling condition and a mistake on pit road that sent him to the rear of the field, only to come back into the top-15 before breaking a suspension part and slamming the wall with 38 laps to go. He was credited with a 36th place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 and slipped to 7th in the series standings. He held his ground in the top-20 at the start of the race and jumped into the lead by staying on the track during a pit stop sequence on lap 48. He led 18 laps before losing the top spot on pit road. The tight handling condition worsened as the sun dipped in the sky, dropping Gordon back to 13th on lap 125. During a pit stop, the team had an eighth member over the pit wall which violated NASCAR rules. Gordon was sent to the rear of the field and restarted in 38th place. Two tires on a later pit stop moved him up to 21st, but he got caught one lap down when the caution came out during a green flag pit sequence on lap 200. Gordon restarted in front of the leader and eventual race winner Kasey Kahne, but lost the lap 35 laps later. However, a well-timed caution gave him the free pass to put him back on the lead lap. He worked his way through race traffic up from 25th to 15th by lap 300. He gambled again on two tires on lap 313 to take 8th place, but faded back to 15th where he was running with 40 laps to go. A vibration sent him to pit road for an unscheduled stop. Shortly after returning to the track, Gordon slammed the wall with the right front after breaking the right front suspension. "I had the brakes go out prior to that," Gordon said. "The rotor was still on and it was vibrating, then I went into turn three and something in the right front broke and we ended up in the wall. We were horrible at the beginning (of the race), but we fought and got ourselves back in the top-10... But I can't believe this is the kind of tire we have to race on. Goodyear can do better than this."
Lesson Plans In Use
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 21)- - Jeff Gordon's third place finish in the All-Star Challenge gave his raceteam a 90-lap test session under race conditions in preparation for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. Though Gordon won't drive the same car in Sunday's race, the team found what works on the newly-paved Lowes Motor Speedway surface. Gordon started 4th in the first of three segments and dropped back to 11th almost immediately. His car was too loose early in the runs to mount a significant challenge. Gordon's car took off after 15 laps and he moved up to 6th following green flag pit stops on lap 19. He passed Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth on lap 24 and 27, respectively. He concluded segment one in 4th place. The field inversion put him 7th to start segment two. Gordon is simply a master at finding his way through a multi-car wreck in front of him. That skill was on display yet again during the All-Star Challenge. On the 9th lap of segment two, Kasey Kahne drifted into Mark Martin as the pair battled for the lead. Chaos ensued behind them with Gordon slamdrafting Kenseth's door to get through with minor cosmetic damage. Like clockwork, he faded back to 10th on the restart after the red flag, but patiently worked his way around Dale Earnhardt Jr, Bobby Labonte, and Ryan Newman to move into 6th on lap 23. He finished segment two in that position. The crew made changes before the final segment to tighten the car up for short runs. On the second lap of the final segment, Gordon watched as Tony Stewart and Kenseth wrecked in turn one, allowing the DuPont Chevrolet to gain 3rd place behind Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. As the laps wound down, Gordon could not draw closer to Johnson or Harvick as the chassis changes between segments inhibited his ability on longer runs.
DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 14)- - For the second consecutive season, Jeff Gordon finished second to Greg Biffle at Darlington Raceway. But what a difference a year makes in how the finishes are viewed. One year ago, Gordon had already posted three wins and moved up to second in the points following the runner-up finish at Darlington. This time around he was still looking for his first win of the season and fighting to regain his footing following a 40th place finish a week earlier. The start time of the race at 7pm eastern forced the teams to contend with the setting sun, and then race under the lights for the final three hours. Gordon's car was far from a contender at the outset. He started 12th and briefly advanced into the top-10 before a loose handling condition took effect and sent him to 16th. As the sun went down and the track cooled, Gordon's handling vastly improved. He moved into the top-10 on lap 129 where he'd remain for the rest of the night. In the mid-stages of the event, he gained several spots to move up to 5th on lap 251. In the final 100 laps he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr for 4th place, and took 3rd from Matt Kenseth, punctuated with a Darlington stripe on the side of the DuPont Chevrolet. In the last 30 laps, he moved in on Biffle to challenge for the victory, but lapped traffic hurt his final effort. "I'm very happy to be up there battling for that win obviously," Gordon said. "It's been a little while since we've been able to do that. I wanted it so bad that I was a bit disappointed there at the end when we came up on the lapped car and I just felt like I could have let it go a little bit more. But hey, that's the way it goes. Had I not hit the wall down when I passed Kenseth, maybe it wouldn't have mattered. It was just a great run for us, so close and momentum that we can carry into next week and the next couple of weeks at Charlotte."
DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 14)- - Jeff Gordon didn't break through with his first victory of the season in the Dodge 500 at Darlington Raceway, but he scored a much-needed second-place finish to solidify himself in the top-10 of the points standings. "We needed a top five just as bad as a win," Gordon said. "I think that with the last couple of weeks and the way they've gone, a top five is fantastic for us but when you're that close to the win you want it really bad. It's not about needing it, it's about wanting it and the fact that the team put out the effort that was capable of a win... If we just could figure some of these setups out on these 1.5-milers, this team is going to shine. Tonight was very good for us."
Dragons Come To Call
RICHMOND, VA. (May 7)- - Jeff Gordon's string of disappointing finishes at Richmond International Raceway continued with a 41st place finish on Saturday night. After posting two finishes of 30th or worse last year, Gordon was buoyed by a recent test session at the track. He started the race from 16th position and began knifing his way through traffic by lap 30. He moved into the top-10 on lap 40, and picked off five more competitors in the next 20 laps. After the first round of pit stops on lap 65, Gordon came off pit road in 4th place. He claimed 3rd when Matt Kenseth went behind the wall due to an oil leak. However, as darkness enveloped the track the handling began getting looser. Gordon faded to 6th on lap 105, and slipped to 11th on lap 141 as three cars passed him on the same lap. He fell as low as 15th on lap 163 before a caution flag allowed the team to work on the car. Gordon came off pit road in 12th place on lap 191, and fell to 13th on lap 222 when Mark Martin went by. Five laps later, Gordon pulled to the inside of the track on the backstretch and coasted to pit road without power. The crew pushed the DuPont Chevrolet behind the wall where a broken distributor claimed their hopes for the night. Gordon got back on the track to test a setup for the fall race. He finished 40th, posted his first DNF of the season, and dropped to 9th in the series standings.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 4)- - Jeff Gordon put a pair of cars through testing paces at Lowes Motor Speedway on May 2-3 in preparation for the Nextel All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600. Gordon is a three-time winner of the all-star race and a three-time winner of the 600. However, he has not visited victory lane at the track since capturing the all-star race in 2001. The DuPont team will look to improve on their recent performances at the track. Gordon has finished 30th or worse in three of his past four points races in Charlotte. Nearly all of the full-time teams were on hand to test at the track.
TALLADEGA, AL. (May 1)- - Jeff Gordon's 15th place finish in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was surely not indicative of his day. Gordon ran in the lead pack virtually all day, and led the most laps (62) during the race. However, with two laps to go, the field was shuffled in the draft and Gordon was the odd man out. Gordon started the day in fine fashion by moving from 12th up to 2nd by lap 6. He took the lead on lap 9 and was in front of a major wreck trigged when Carl Edwards, going 5-wide in turn three, got Kyle Busch loose in traffic. When the carnage ended, 13 cars were swept up in the melee including Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne-- two drivers ahead of Gordon in the points standings. After taking four tires on the ensuing pit stop, Gordon restarted in 7th. He worked extremely well with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers during the course of the race. After slipping to 14th on lap 42, Gordon and Johnson hooked up for a run to the front. Gordon re-took the top spot on lap 53. Gordon led several times during the mid-stages of the race. Gordon lost the top spot on lap 123 to Johnson but regained it 20 laps later from Elliot Sadler with Johnson providing the needed push. Gordon held the lead through pit stops, but got shuffled back to 8th on lap 159. Under caution with 22 laps remaining, Gordon elected to stay on the track and move up to 6th. On the restart, Gordon got drafting help from Vickers before Johnson moved into low line to join his teammates in a line behind Tony Stewart. The last caution with 15 to go came when Denny Hamlin triggered a multi-car wreck in the tri-oval. On the final restart with 10 laps remaining, Vickers pushed Gordon past Stewart for the lead. Vickers took the top spot one lap later while Gordon slipped into 4th and hooked into a draft with Johnson. Gordon powered into the lead past Jamie McMurray with 4 to go after a push from Johnson. His time in front didn't last as Vickers got a push from Stewart to take the lead with 2 laps to go. When Gordon made a move to pass Vickers, Johnson moved up the track and drafted past both of his teammates to take the lead at the white flag. Gordon found himself without drafting help on the low line as the field thundered by, thus relegating him to a 15th place finish. "I tried to get a run on the high side of Brian coming to the white flag," Gordon said. "That just killed me. He blocked me up high and then I tried to go low. I looked in the mirror and here came Jimmie. I got stuck on the inside and I knew I was done."
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