The Down Staircase
Gordon started 42nd and gained five spots in the first five laps. By lap 11, he had moved to 31st as his march
forward continued. A competition caution slowed the field on lap 31 with Gordon up to the 28th position.
He gained two spots on pit road and restarted in 26th. A caution for Tony Raines' brought several leaders to pit road.
Gordon moved up to 14th position for the restart on lap 50. However, on older tires he faded to 16th within five laps.
His fade continued as he slipped to 21st by lap 70. Gordon dropped a position to Kevin Harvick and ran in 22nd place
at the 100-lap mark.
Gordon came onto pit road under green on lap 117 just before the caution waved for debris. While the right side
tires were being changed, crew chief Steve Letarte immediately called for two tires to try to keep Gordon on
the lead lap. However, the strategy failed as he was scored a lap down in 28th place. At the halfway point, Gordon dropped
to 30th and was on the verge of going two laps down. Race leader Jimmie Johnson passed Gordon on lap 216 to
put his teammate out of contention for the day. He moved up to 26th as the laps wound down, but was hindered by the laps
Gordon lost the series points lead to Tony Stewart. He has posted just one top-5 finish in 6 races since winning at Texas Motor Speedway in early-April.
May 31 - - Jeff Gordon's weekend at Dover International Speedway was essentially ruined before the green flag even flew. A wreck during his qualifying lap destroyed his primary race car and forced him to start at the rear of the field. The combination of a poor starting spot and an uncomfortable setup resulted in Gordon turning in his worst racing performance of the 2009 season.
Gordon started 42nd and gained five spots in the first five laps. By lap 11, he had moved to 31st as his march forward continued. A competition caution slowed the field on lap 31 with Gordon up to the 28th position. He gained two spots on pit road and restarted in 26th. A caution for Tony Raines' brought several leaders to pit road. Gordon moved up to 14th position for the restart on lap 50. However, on older tires he faded to 16th within five laps. His fade continued as he slipped to 21st by lap 70. Gordon dropped a position to Kevin Harvick and ran in 22nd place at the 100-lap mark.
Gordon came onto pit road under green on lap 117 just before the caution waved for debris. While the right side tires were being changed, crew chief Steve Letarte immediately called for two tires to try to keep Gordon on the lead lap. However, the strategy failed as he was scored a lap down in 28th place. At the halfway point, Gordon dropped to 30th and was on the verge of going two laps down. Race leader Jimmie Johnson passed Gordon on lap 216 to put his teammate out of contention for the day. He moved up to 26th as the laps wound down, but was hindered by the laps down status.
Gordon lost the series points lead to Tony Stewart. He has posted just one top-5 finish in 6 races since winning at Texas Motor Speedway in early-April.
Gordon started 3rd and dropped back to 5th on the inside line before the end of the first lap. Brian Vickers passed on the inside on lap 5 to drop Gordon back to 6th position. A passing rain shower brought the caution flag out on lap 7. The race resumed four laps later under partly cloudy skies. The second caution waved on lap 17 for Kevin Harvick's cut tire. Gordon fell further back on the restart and lost positions to Joey Logano and Juan Montoya.
Gordon battled a tight handling condition and fell out of the top-10 on lap 23. Ten laps later he slipped to 14th. A competition caution on lap 41 allowed Gordon to hit pit road for adjustments. Crew chief Steve Letarte elected to use a spring rubber and make a track bar adjustment. Gordon gained two spots after the restart, but fell to 16th within five laps. He dropped to 17th by lap 70 before another caution for a rain shower. Pit stops followed and Gordon slipped back to 28th. The field came to pit road under the red flag as the rain became a thunderstorm.
After more than an hour under red flag conditions, the race resumed on lap 80 with Kyle Busch at the front of the field. Gordon restarted in 24th place as the sun popped through the clouds shortly after 2pm/eastern time. He steadily gained positions and ran 21st on lap 87. However, by lap 100, he lost the positions and dropped to 24th. Things didn't get much better as he fell to 29th on lap 120. He moved back to 22nd on lap 145, but was less than a straightaway from going a lap down. As cloud cover enveloped the track, Gordon's car came to life and he turned some of his fastest laps of the race. He moved to 20th on lap 157 to solidify his standing on the lead lap.
Gordon had moved up to 14th before rain halted the race on lap 227. With no break in the weather, NASCAR called the race just past the halfway point. "We made that two-tire stop held our own there and were actually making a little bit of ground right toward the end of that run," Gordon said. "And then we got four fresh Goodyears on there and I think we can really get ourselves into contention, and it wasn't looking like that during the early stages of this race. So I give a lot of credit to (crew chief) Steve Letarte for making some great adjustments."
Gordon started 6th and took the lead halfway through the third segement, thus giving him the lead for the final 10-lap shootout. When the green flag waved, he moved out to a comfortable lead before Jimmie Johnson spun on the backstretch to bring out the caution flag. Since caution laps don't count in the All-Star event, Gordon led the field to another restart before the 10-lap segment.
When the green waved, Kyle Busch moved into the middle and took the lead from Gordon who got loose in turn three on the inside. One lap later, Gordon pulled to the inside of Busch in turn three with Ryan Newman on the outside to make it three-wide. Gordon got loose exiting turn four and spun sideways into the infield grass before making light head-on contact with the safer barrier. He exited the car with a DNF.
The move was clearly a 'go for broke' situation that Gordon rarely puts himself in under normal race conditions, but the All-Star event is far from a normal event. Nevertheless, Gordon's strong run in the event bodes well for the upcoming Coca-Cola 600 at the track.
"That's the All-Star event," Gordon said. "I felt like Kyle could have given me more room, but I think he was surprised that Newman was outside of him. I'm glad it wasn't worse than that because I was nervous sliding across the track and I'm glad that nobody got into me."
Gordon was credited with 18th place. At the front of the field, Tony Stewart took the lead from Matt Kenseth with 3 laps to go and won the All-Star race for the first time in his career.
Gordon started on the outside of the front row and bided his time in Matt Kenseth's tire tracks before taking the lead on lap 17. A caution flag a few laps later brought the field to pit road. Gordon took four tires and departed in 5th place -- losing a spot to Kenseth who also took four tires. He passed Kenseth on lap 40 to take 5th as dusk gave way to nightfall around the historic oval. By lap 50, he got around Greg Biffle to take the 4th position.
On lap 67, Gordon dropped to 6th when Biffle and Martin Truex went around him. A lap later, Gordon re-entered the top-5 with a pass on Biffle. Gordon moved to 4th when Jimmie Johnson pitted for tires on lap 74. One lap later, the caution waved for Michael Waltrip's wreck. Pit stops followed and Gordon departed in 2nd place. However, he lost a spot to Truex within two laps of the restart. A loose wheel brought Gordon to pit road on lap 100. The unscheduled stop dropped him back to 31st position, one lap down. He rode among the lapped cars through the halfway point of the race while trying to get in position for the free pass. On lap 215, Kurt Busch's spin gave Gordon the free pass to get back on the lead lap.
He restarted in 20th position and dropped to 21st trying to avoid Clint Bowyer's spinning car on lap 224. Gordon moved up to 19th by lap 230, and began picking up spots as the laps wound down. He moved into the top-15 on lap 240. Four laps later, he took 13th place from Johnson. A debris caution brought the field to pit road on lap 250 with Gordon departing in the 15th position. He entered the top-10 with less than 100 laps to go, and got a caution with 92 laps to go that allowed him to close in further on the lead. Gordon gained five spots on pit road and restarted in 4th place. Gordon held 4th through a series of cautions and restarts before pit stops with 70 laps to go, where he gained a spot and departed in 3rd position.
Gordon restarted in 5th place due to Kenseth and Truex staying on the track. He took 4th from Kevin Harvick with 60 laps to go, and moved into 3rd with a pass on Kenseth with 50 to go. A caution with 48 to go brought the leaders to pit road. Gordon opted for two tires and departed in 3rd place. However, he restarted in 10th place due to seven drivers staying on the track. On the restart, he moved to the inside and gained a spot on the opening lap. With 40 to go, he moved up to the 7th position. The 16th caution -- a Darlington record -- came out with 33 laps to go. The leaders stayed on the track and the caution allowed Gordon to close in on the top-5. With 25 laps to go, Gordon took 5th from Brad Keselowski. However, as the laps wound down, he battled Ryan Newman for position and was unable to close in on Mark Martin or Jimmie Johnson at the front of the field. Martin captured his second victory of the season just a few days after announcing he would be returning to the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the 2010 season.
DOES 'PERSEVERANCE' SUM UP THE RACE?
"Yeah, perseverance by an awesome team. We never gave up. We had an incredible race car. I'm so proud of Steve Letarte and all the guys on this team. We just had so many things we had to overcome. At Darlington because it's a long race you can overcome a lot but those guys played the strategy right there at the end and I really thought those two tires were going to work for me and Tony Stewart. They did for a short period of time then the car just stopped. Great job to Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, they were putting on a heck of a battle up there. I had a lot of fun with Ryan Newman trying to get by him there at the end. It was a great effort for Hendrick Motorsports. If you look at Brad Keselowski and all the guys at Hendrick they did an amazing job. That was one hard fifth-place finish."
ON SUSPENSION OF JEREMY MAYFIELD AND TWO CREWMAN FOR DRUG ABUSE VIOLATION:
"You know it's going to happen. There are just too many guys out there and you know somebody is going to make a mistake somewhere along the way. We've heard about other instances outside of the Cup Series. I think it's just very unfortunate for the sport and for Jeremy and for everybody because it definitely puts a black eye on it and we'll just kind of take the blows and move on. I thought it was an amazing race tonight and don't think that anybody let what happened before the race affect what we were doing out there and think the fans got one heck of a race."
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN PIT ROAD STRATEGY COME INTO PLAY SO CRAZILY TOWARD THE END OF THE RACE AT OLD DARLINGTON?
"Well, take out old Darlington. This is not old Darlington. This is the new Darlington with the new surface and new tire. Goodyear needs to soften this tire up a little bit. It's a little bit too hard. It's just a one-groove race track out there, but it's challenging in so many ways. It's still exciting. And when you have a one-groove race track like that, you know pit strategy is going to be key. It's kinda cool when it does play out that way. And I'm happy for Mark Martin and Alan Gustafson that it did."
WERE YOU ON PINS AND NEEDLES MORE TONIGHT WITH ALL THOSE CAUTIONS?
"It was edgy. It was definitely a handful. For us, it was a crazy night. We had to overcome a lot of things. So, for us, I was just trying to stay out of the cautions and not be a caution and try to fight back from getting that lap down from having that loose wheel, then letting Steve play out the strategy and it was a great top five effort."
YOU AND STEWART-HAAS ALL FINISHED IN THE TOP FIVE TODAY. IS THIS AS STRONG DEPTH-WISE AS HENDRICK HAS BEEN?
"I felt like the No. 16 (Biffle) was really strong. I don't know what happened to him. He spun. But he seemed to be the guy to beat. The No. 17 (Kenseth) was strong early on. I don't know what happened to him. But we were very, very strong. Jimmie (Johnson) had to start deep in the field. Mark (Martin) just did a solid job all night long. And they played out the strategy right. And Tony (Stewart) and Ryan (Newman) are doing an amazing job. Their teams are strong. They're equipment is obviously good, we know how good that is, and the resources. And they're maximizing it. They're doing what you should do in that position. They're utilizing those resources that we all worked hard for that they have teamed up with us in a way, And Brad (Keselowski) did an amazing job too. I think it showed that tonight we were very strong."
HOW DOES MARK MARTIN KEEP DOING IT?
"I think you're discrediting Mark Martin. I never thought he lost it. This guy is amazing. He's just an incredible race car driver and just one tough guy. And he never gives up. I'm really proud of him, and happy for him but I'm extremely happy for Alan and that team. They've had some tough times and it's been a hard fight to get back into this position and I'm just thrilled that Rick Hendrick and Alan and all those guys are able to enjoy some wins from all the teams right now. We've got to get Dale Jr up there. But I think we can get him up there as well."
Heavy rains earlier in the day resulted in a yellow flag start while track drying continued. On lap 7, the green flag waved and Gordon drove deep into turn three to take the lead from Brian Vickers. However, Vickers got a run off of turn two and took the lead away on lap 8. Gordon battled Denny Hamlin for two laps before the first caution for Dave Blaney's crash on lap 10.
On the restart, Gordon trailed Vickers but settled comfortably into the runner-up spot. Gordon moved back into the lead on lap 25 by getting around Vickers. He held the lead until lap 76 when Hamlin and Kurt Busch passed to drop Gordon back to 3rd place. Gordon complained of a lack of grip with the right front tire. He came to pit road under green on lap 99 for a four-tire change. Gordon dropped to 5th after the stops, having stayed on the track for a few extra laps on worn tires.
A caution for Jeremy Mayfield's cut tire on lap 116 brought the field to pit road. Gordon dropped two spots and left pit road in 7th place. On the restart, Kevin Harvick closed in and took a spot from Gordon, sending him back to 8th place. He eventually settled in and passed Harvick on lap 146. Kasey Kahne's spin on lap 151 brought out the caution and the field came to pit road. After a spring rubber adjustment, Gordon lost a spot to Harvick and restarted in 8th place. On lap 169, David Stremme turned Carl Edwards sideways on the frontstretch, which collected Jamie McMurray. Gordon came back to pit road for a two-tire change under the caution flag. An ignition box failure forced Gordon to switch to the back-up box on pit road.
Gordon restarted in 9th and was running 8th when Jimmie Johnson brought out a caution on lap 190 while battling brake problems. The lead lap cars came onto pit road, with Gordon departing in 6th position. Shortly after the restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr spun Jeff Burton in turn three to bring out another caution. Gordon came to pit road and lost three spots. However, he was able to gain ground when the green flag waved and moved up to 6th by lap 225. He battled a loose handling condition in the corners, but was able to take 5th from Martin Truex Jr. A debris caution on lap 273 slowed the field for pit stops. Gordon gained three spots and departed in 2nd place. A caution for Greg Biffle's spin slowed the field on lap 284. On the restart, Gordon was eased up the track by the lapped car of David Ragan and fell to 3rd, just before a caution for Kevin Harvick's blown tire.
The restart on lap 299 lasted a few laps before another caution for Marcos Ambrose's spin. While the leaders pitted, Gordon was the only lead lap car to stay on the track. Crew chief Steve Letarte elected to keep Gordon on the track and try for the win instead of pitting where he struggled to contend with Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman at the front of the field. A lap after the restart, a caution for Mark Martin's spin put Gordon in his fuel window to make it the rest of the way. A multi-car wreck with 75 laps to go collected David Stremme, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Gordon stayed on the track -- knowing he would be finishing the race with what he had.
With 48 laps to go, Busch pulled to the outside and took the lead from Gordon. Twenty laps later, Burton passed Gordon as the older tires began hindering his efforts. Tony Stewart dropped Gordon back to 4th with 25 laps to go. In the closing stages, he continued to fade through the pack and dropped to 7th with 8 laps to go. Gordon crossed the finish line in 8th place and re-assumed the series points lead.
ARE YOU HAPPY TO STILL BE ON TOP IN THE POINTS, OR MORE FRUSTRATED WITH THE WAY YOU RAN?
"No, I'm more frustrated with the way we ran. It's important to be up there in the points so that we don't get ourselves in jeopardy getting out of the Chase you know. That helps us stay solidly in the Chase, but we've got to be racing that Kyle Busch for the wins. He's the guy to beat. I thought we were going to be better than that. We started so good and I really thought we were going to have something for them, but it wasn't the case."
DID YOU THINK YOU HAD A CHANCE TO WIN?
"No. I knew we didn't. We were just trying to get the best finish we could and then once we were out there, we were pretty much stuck with that strategy. That long run just killed us. I knew we were struggling and we kind of just put ourselves in that position to see what maybe clean air would do. It was a good try, certainly, but we weren't good enough tonight. We missed it. We started good and couldn't adjust it from there."
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