Window Of Opportunity
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (October 23)- - While Jeff Gordon essentially conceeded his championship hopes for the 2006 season after three consecutive DNF's, a small window of opportunity opened for him in the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Jeff Burton's engine problems combined with Gordon's 5th place finish moved him 141 points from the top spot-- still a sizeable gap. The major hurdle remains the eight drivers ahead of him with four races remaining. Gordon dominated the early part of the race at Martinsville, but when the sun came out from behind the clouds, Gordon's handling suffered. He started on the outside of the front row and took the lead immediately from Kurt Busch. He led the race until Jimmie Johnson took the top spot on lap 144. The complexion of the chamnpionship race changed on lap 220 when Jeff Burton pulled behind the wall with engine problems. Gordon stayed on the track during a caution period on lap 242 to take the lead. However, he lost the top spot to Denny Hamlin shortly after the restart. He ran in the top-5 until lap 364 when he pitted for tires and fuel while nearly every other lead lap car stayed out. He restarted in 23rd position, but moved up to 3rd place under caution on lap 402 when nearly all of the lead lap cars came in for their final pit stop under caution. He lost a position to Johnson but settled into 4th place until Tony Stewart took the spot with 4 laps to go. Johnson went on to score his 5th victory of the season and established himself as a championship contender once again. "I have to congratulate Jimmie," Gordon said. "When the sun came out, my car got really loose. His was strong and once he got out front there was no way anyone was going to touch him. Top-five for us, I'm real happy with that. First part of the race, I was like 'if we don't win I'm going to be disappointed.' But once that sun came out, we lost track position and I was like 'if we can get a top-five I'll be happy.' I had a lot of fun racing with Casey Mears and I can't wait for him to be my teammate next year."
Gateway To The Keys
SOUTH FLORIDA. (October 17)- - Jeff Gordon took to the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Monday and Tuesday to test in preparation for the season-ending race in mid-November. Gordon tested two cars during the day/night sessions. Car 24B turned the fastest laps of the two, with a lap of 31.4 seconds-- about two-tenths slower than Casey Mears who set the fast lap during the night session. Most notably, Jeremy Mayfield in a Toyota was 7th fastest in the night session as the manufacturer went head-to-head in a test session with its competition for the first time. In addition, several teams brought their "Car of Tomorrow" to the track. With its rear wing and drag-inducing front valence, the car was distantly behind its modern day equivalent.
After The Gold Rush
SOUTH FLORIDA. (October 15)- - Jeff Gordon's third consecutive DNF will likely be the death knell in his championship hopes for the season. A blown engine while running 4th with 35 laps to go at Lowes Motor Speedway sent Gordon to the garage-- making the familiar left turn far too early. He fell to 10th in the standings, 216 points behind Jeff Burton with five races remaining. Of course, the final result doesn't indicate his competitiveness during the race. Gordon made a charge early in the race from starting 41st. A wreck on lap 2 allowed Gordon to move up to 24th place for a restart on lap 12. From there he steadily picked off race traffic, and entered the top-10 on lap 100. A gas-only stop on lap 104 moved him to 4th. He ran in the top-5 until his engine expired after that. Gordon led two laps during a pit stop sequence on lap 155, but got caught a lap down when Mark Martin wrecked just after Gordon had made a pit stop. A caution for debris on lap 277 allowed him to get in sync with the leaders. He was running with Jimmie Johnson when his engine blew on the frontstretch. While his hopes for a fifth championship this season might be in the rear view mirror, there are five races where Gordon hopes to score victories. On longer runs at Charlotte, he seemed to have the dominant car. "You saw what kind of race car we had," Gordon said. "We were just sitting there in fourth, waiting for that next pit stop. It's unfortunate because we pride ourselves on our engine department. It's just not meant to be for us this year. Glad to make the chase, but from here on out we just try to win races. We needed a solid run (at Charlotte) and we had that, but we needed a solid finish to take some momentum into our Homestead test and also into Martinsville. We're still going to have a lot of fun because the cars are driving so good."
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On
TALLADEGA, AL. (October 9)- - Jeff Gordon was swept up in a wreck at Talladega Superspeedway on lap 139 and finished 36th-- his 6th DNF of the season. Gordon started 4th at Talladega and hooked up with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Busch to take the lead on lap 3. He remained in the top-5 until a green flag pit stop on lap 32. Following the stop he was running in 11th, but received no drafting help on the inside line and dropped to 27th on lap 44. He then worked his way back into the draft and climbed to 12th on lap 60. Following a green flag pit stop on lap 66, he moved up to 2nd. Gordon re-took the lead on lap 72 with bump drafting help from Dale Earnhardt Jr. The draft kept Gordon near the front until lap 95 when he went into the middle and slipped back to 17th. He drafted with Burton on the inside line up to 14th before pit stops. He came off pit road in 5th place on lap 110, and took the lead from Brian Vickers on lap 124. However, he received no drafting help on the inside and fell to 27th. A caution on lap 130 brought the field to pit road. Gordon took four tires and restarted in 17th. His day would take a downward turn on lap 139 when a chain-reaction crash turned Casey Mears into a spin. Gordon sustained front and rear damage and brought the car to the garage. He returned for a few laps, but later pulled behind the wall with a 36th place finish. Gordon's hit in the points was spared somewhat due to Jeff Burton's flat tire in the closing stages, and a last lap wreck where Vickers took out Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. to claim the victory. "I've said all along 'if it's meant to be, it's meant to be,'" Gordon said. "It just doesn't look like it's meant to be for the DuPont team. We have some great tracks coming up, we can win races. But I'm not even thinking about it because I'm so bummed out. I know our chances are pretty slim of winning this championship, if not completely done."
Hello Mr. Heartache
KANSAS CITY, KS. (October 2)- - Jeff Gordon's 39th place finish in the Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway put him in a difficult spot for the next few races. He simply can't afford another lackluster finish. With Talladega on the horizon next weekend, the opportunity exists for Gordon to make up a significant amount of points. That's the only way he can look at it after his fifth DNF of the season at Kansas. "It's very disappointing," Gordon said. "We're just going to have to fight really hard. It was a great fight today, we really came up through there. We lost the handling a little bit on the car. I don't know if the track changed or the tires. But we still going to salvage a pretty decent finish. Going into turn three the engine cut off, I switched boxes but I noticed there was no fuel pressure."
There's Your Trouble
KANSAS CITY, KS. (October 2)- - It looked almost too good to be true. After running in the lower half of the top-10 for the balance of the day at Kansas Speedway, Jeff Gordon would gamble on fuel mileage and pull off the win. But in racing, things change in an instant. Gordon experienced a fuel pressure problem with 22 laps remaining and pulled behind the wall. Gordon would fail to finish the race and came in 39th, dropping to sixth in the points standings. Gordon's day started off with a near disaster on lap 15. He moved from 11th to 9th at the outset but spun into the infield grass to avoid Ryan Newman's spinning car on lap 15. After getting tires on pit road, Gordon restarted in 39th place; a bookended day to say the least. When the green flag waved, Gordon made his way through race traffic. By lap 40 he was up to 26th, and moved into the top-20 on lap 52. A caution flag on lap 60 brought the field to pit road with Gordon exiting in 16th. On the longer runs, the DuPont Chevrolet made its biggest gains. Gordon entered the top-10 on lap 81. Over the next 30 laps he passed Scott Riggs, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Kasey Kahne. He took the 5th position from Jeff Burton on lap 107. He dropped to 7th on lap 139 after a restart, and slipped further back due to a series of restarts. Gordon fell as low as 11th on lap 187, but steadily gained spots. He passed Casey Mears with 73 to go to take 8th. The caution came out one lap later which brought Gordon to pit road for the final time. The team made sure to pack the fuel cell and restarted in 12th. Gordon made his way through traffic and took 8th from Kahne with 34 to go. However, 12 laps later he pulled onto pit road and then was pushed behind the wall.
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