After a drama-filled 2015 Chase, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for its championship race.
The year has been a victory lap of sorts for @JeffGordonWeb, who will step away from racing after Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
Gordon’s career has no doubt been legendary, but his accolades aren’t set in stone just yet. He, along with @KevinHarvick, @MartinTruex_Jr, and @KyleBusch are the four drivers remaining in the Chase, making the latter three the only thing standing between Gordon and an elusive fifth championship. If history is any indication, Gordon has as good of a shot as anyone at the title.
Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of the few tracks on the circuit that hasn’t been around Gordon’s entire career. The Sprint Cup Series first came to the South Florida track in 1999, four years after it opened.
In the inaugural race, Gordon both qualified and finished in the 10th position, having led a total of three laps, all of which came during green-flag pit stop cycles. Over the next 12 races at Homestead, Gordon would consistently run well. Despite averaging a seventh place finish and only finishing outside of the top-10 three times during that time, Gordon’s highest finish was fourth in that stretch.
Once the 2012 season finale at Homestead came around, Gordon was already mathematically eliminated from championship contention, sitting 11th in points. He was 115 points behind points leader Brad @Keselowski after being docked 25 points for a late-race incident with @ClintBowyer at Phoenix International Raceway the previous week.
The Homestead weekend started out indicative of how the season had gone for Gordon, as he qualified in the 15th position. However, Gordon and the No. 24 team still had some fight left in them.
After @JoeyLogano led the field to the green flag, Gordon began to slowly move through the field, cracking the top-10 for the first time on Lap 31. Gordon continued his slow march over the next 40 or so laps and was in eighth when the first caution of the day flew for debris on Lap 78. He gained one spot on the ensuing pit stops and restarted seventh behind teammate @JimmieJohnson.
On Lap 99, Gordon broke into the top-five, getting past Johnson for the position.
The No. 24 was up to third on Lap 144 when the caution came out for debris once again. This time, however, Gordon would lose spots in the pits as he elected to take four tires when many of the leaders took only two, and he restarted 11th.
The race would only remain under the green for six laps, as the race’s third and final caution of the day came out when Ricky @StenhouseJr hit the wall in Turn 3. Although the run was short, Gordon was able to get back into the top-10, restarting 10th on Lap 166.
A good restart got the No. 24 Dupont 20 Years Chevrolet up to seventh and Gordon continued to move through the field over the next 10 laps, moving to fifth with 90 laps to go. Gordon charged through the field with Johnson, as both had fresh tires, and was running second with 65 laps to go.
The four-time champion took the lead for the first time on Lap 213, when Johnson came in for a green flag pit stop, but Gordon then gave it up just a lap later as he too came down pit road. Because of differing pit strategies, Gordon was in fourth when his round of green-flag stops cycled through.
The differing pit cycles, however, would turn out to greatly help Gordon. With 13 laps remaining, he was running third behind Truex Jr. and Busch, both of whom couldn’t make it the rest of the way on fuel. With all of the attention focused on Keselowski, who had all but wrapped up the championship, Gordon quietly took the lead on Lap 255.
Gordon went on to drive away from the field, and took the checkered flag by a huge margin. The win was his second of the season and 87th of his career.
“I knew we had a great race car going into the race,” said Gordon in Victory Lane. “At times I didn’t think we had a winning car, but we played the strategy perfectly.”
While the win was an important one, making Kentucky Speedway the only track Gordon has not won at in his career, the lasting memory of Jeff Gordon at Homestead will likely be this Sunday, when he runs the final race of his career.
John McHugh is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.
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