Veteran experience aids transition to Gen-6 car
It was hard to tell who was happier in the minutes following the final checkered flag of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season: newly crowned champion Brad Keselowski, or race winner Jeff Gordon.
From the size of Gordon’s smile and decibel level of his celebration, you’d have thought the veteran had won the title. As he hoisted his race winner’s trophy, there was no mistaking the feeling that Gordon was back on track for the bigger hardware in 2013.
Biggest change for 2013 is...
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The emotion was understandable.
A week earlier, a rare on-track temper tantrum resulted in a $100,000 fine, the loss of 25 championship points, and a whole lot of head-shaking for the prototypical All-American Gordon, who only weeks earlier had clawed back from a slow start (40th place in the Daytona 500 after an engine failure) to qualify for the Chase.
The dramatic run for the berth in NASCAR’s playoffs -- coming in the waning laps of the final regular season race -- was typical of Gordon’s atypical season, which was an all-or-nothing fight for every lap.
It’s exactly the kind of drama he’d prefer to avoid in 2013.
For all intents and purposes, Gordon gets to enjoy a three-month reign as the Sprint Cup Series’ most recent winner. And while his 10th-place final ranking in 2012 was his lowest since 2005, the 25-point penalty he received for wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix was the difference between 10th and seventh in the standings.
“We’ve had to have one another’s back because we’ve all made mistakes this year,’’ Gordon said shortly after leaving Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Victory Lane. “That’s the kind of team we’ve been this year. So to be able to celebrate with them in Victory Lane was very special, very meaningful and gives a tremendous amount of momentum to go into 2013 with the new race car.’’
As a senior member of the Sprint Cup ranks, Gordon has plenty of experience transitioning to new race cars, and is optimistic it will play in his favor for the upcoming season. He was one of the first to test the new Chevy during its development stages, and came away impressed with the possibilities of the Generation-6 car.
“The manufacturers are more involved, the teams are more involved, (and) I feel like we’ve just got a step ahead with where we are starting with this car,’’ Gordon said. “It drove great in traffic. I feel like we’re going to just continue to evolve this car at a rapid pace. I feel like they look good and drive great, and are only going to get better and better.
“This car right out of the box drove good, and that’s a very good sign.’’
A good sign for the cars, for NASCAR and for Gordon, who, at age 41, has never been more committed to winning his first championship since 2001.
Other than figuring out the Gen-6 package as quickly as possible, Gordon said there’s very little his team needs to change in 2013. The pit crew could be more consistent, he allowed. And it wouldn’t hurt to be more aggressive -- he in the car and crew chief Alan Gustafson on the pit box.
Gordon had 18 top-10 finishes in his 15th multi-win season, but also five DNFs and three more showings of 30th or worse.
“We had great race cars, but we kind of do need a reset, and I’m looking forward to the 2013 car,’’ Gordon said.
"I think we've got some great things in store for that."
See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:
11. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
9. Tony Stewart
7. Matt Kenseth
6. Denny Hamlin
5. Greg Biffle
4. Kasey Kahne
2. Clint Bowyer