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Gordon uneasy with backup car at Kansas

April 20, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

After hitting the wall during qualifying, the four-time champion sees hard road ahead

Related: Lineup | Coverage options | Race starts at 1 p.m. ET

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Among Jeff Gordon’s 87 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, only nine have come when he qualified 20th or worse.

The four-time Cup champion will be looking for number 10, however, this weekend at Kansas Speedway

A crash during his qualifying attempt left Gordon 43rd in the lineup for the April 21 STP 400, and forced the Hendrick Motorsports team to roll out its backup entry for the race, the eighth stop of 36 this season.

“We had been tight and I wasn’t tight,” Gordon said after the crash. “It felt great coming to the green (flag) and I was pretty happy with it through (Turns) 3 and 4 … I got down into 1 and 2 … I arced it in there just the way I wanted to and got to the yellow line and started picking up the throttle.”

That’s when, he said, the back end of the car “just slowly came around.”

"It puts you behind, but it’s not the end of the world."

-- Jeff Gordon

“For a second I thought I was going to save it. … Now we have a car and an engine that are pretty much done and it’s been a while since I wrecked qualifying,” Gordon said.

Saturday, the No. 24 team logged 33 laps over the course of two practice sessions, ending the day 35th on the speed chart -- well off the pace of those atop the scoring pylon.

Despite his struggles this weekend, Gordon has a strong history at the track. He won the first two Cup races (in 2001-02) contested at the 1.5-mile track located just west of Kansas City, and has six additional top-five finishes in 14 career starts there.

Before this weekend, his worst start at Kansas was 30th in 2004. He finished that race in 13th. The deepest from which he has won in any Cup race is 34th at Talladega in 2000.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson said Saturday’s practice times weren’t indicative of how the No. 24 Chevrolet should perform in Sunday’s race. 

“It’s kind of 'cycle tires, cycle tires, cycle tires,'" Gustafson said of Saturday's practice sessions. "So, I’m not overly concerned about that lap tracker.

“I thought we made some good gains (Friday), took a big step back and now we’re making some small gains to get back there.” 

The team's biggest concern was the change in emphasis when having to go to a backup car.

“Instead of focusing on the handling characteristics of your car, you’re worried about the mechanical attributes,” he said.

“And these (weekend) schedules are so tight anymore; and then the inspection process is so long, it’s tough to get it all done and balance everything out to where you can do it all correctly.

“It puts you behind, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Fifteenth in points, Gordon is looking to rebound from a disappointing 38th-place finish a week ago in Texas. He has one top-five finish (third at Martinsville) and only two top-10s so far this season.

“We just have to be smart,” Gustafson said. “It’s a long race. The thing is, this race last year had a lot of cautions and you’re seeing it now (in Saturday’s truck race). No doubt in my mind. That could work to our advantage or our disadvantage.”

Other notes: 

• Gordon wasn’t the only driver going to a backup car. Contact with the wall on Friday forced Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch into a backup as well. However, since the team made the call prior to qualifying, the move won’t affect Busch’s No. 5 qualifying position.

Dave Blaney will also be heading to the rear of the field prior to the start, due to an engine change Saturday for the Tommy Baldwin Racing team.

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