By Kelly Crandall (LOUDON, N.H.) – Jeff Gordon knew it was going to be close when he started to slide through his pit stall with less than 100 laps to go in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Gordon was carrying more speed than he had his previous trips down pit road, this time because he was leading. As the front of his No. 24 started to inch towards the white line which outlines the designated pit area Gordon saw the NASCAR official and react and knew he was in trouble. The slide ended Gordon’s day, taking him from the lead to 21st off pit road.
“I’m highly disappointed in myself. The team put me in a great position,” the four-time champion said after his 15th place finish. “We had a decent car and then track position made it into a great car. So it was obviously important to maintain that. I just came in and slid through. I hadn’t come close to sliding through all day … and crossed the splitter over the line by an inch and that’s all it takes to make a difference between a chance at winning and finishing 15th.”
Entering the day seventh in points and less than 24 behind leader Matt Kenseth, Gordon’s mistake after leading twice for 36 laps leaves him eighth in points and now almost a full race behind Kenseth who won for the second straight week. Track position was so important Gordon was never able to recover even with the amount of time left in Sunday’s event.
He called passing nearly impossible and his car was not a car capable of working through traffic. It was much better out front. Add in the chaos he described happening around him, the odds were not only stacked but worked against him.
But whether it was his mistake or not, the race ended up playing out differently than Gordon needed. The caution which led to his pit road problem was not what he wanted to see, “that caution hurt us in general,” because it took away the strategy the Alan Gustafson led team were running.
Now, Gordon heads to Dover still looking for his first win of the season. While he’s run strong, he acknowledged right now it won’t be enough to beat the likes of Kenseth, Kyle Busch and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Dover however, is a track he’s won at four times.
And for as much as Sunday stung and for as many mistakes Gordon’s made in his career, this one came at critical time but still early enough in the Chase to overcome.
“I’m excited with the way we’re performing. Chicago was great and this weekend was great and we just keep that up; we’re not far out of fourth,” Gordon said about his point position. “We lost quite a bit of ground to those guys up front but not too much as far as getting in the top 5 in points.
“I think we are very capable of doing it but the driver can’t make mistakes. [Sunday] was one of the days. This is a short race. Track position is so important. You can’t make mistakes. I made a crucial one and I can’t allow that to happen again if we’re going to get ourselves in the top 5 in points this year.”
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