Gordon gets needed boost, still seeks more
April 08, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Video: Gordon on Press Pass
They weren’t slapping high-fives and spraying champagne in Victory Lane, but Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports crewmen were pleased with the team’s third-place finish in Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson both wore looks of relief after the four-time champion scored the group’s first top-five finish of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
“We needed the points. We needed a good, solid run,” said Gordon, who improved six positions in the standings and now sits 12th as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the season’s first Saturday-night affair.
Gustafson echoed his driver’s comments, but admitted that even a top-five finish can be discouraging when a potential win fails to materialize.
“You always want to win, and you get disappointed whey you don’t,” Gustafson said. “Especially when you have a car that can win. But at the end of the day you’ve got to walk before you can run. We’ve got to get rolling and competing (more consistently).
“You’ve got to do this week in and week out if you’re going to win races. We’ve got to get to where we are running in the top five every week and then they’ll come.”
Gordon, a seven-time winner at Martinsville, ran in the top five for nearly the entire first half of the 500-lap race. It was a pit miscue, however, that put the team in a hole and forced Gordon to try and race his way back through the field during the second half.
The lengthy stop proved costly -- Gordon was 14th and stuck in the outside line on the ensuing restart. It got worse before it got better, as traffic and short green-flag runs kept him bottled up back in the field. He was 19th before he finally began to make his way through the field, thanks to a nearly 100-lap stretch of green-flag racing.
“I made a bonehead move … and cost us a bunch of positions,” he admitted. “I was just sitting back there not passing anybody, not going anywhere thinking, ‘Uh‑oh, I've really screwed us up.’
“We made a couple of adjustments and freed the car up and the long run came and our car was unbelievable.”
Clearly one of the fastest, if not the fastest at that point. But when the caution flag slowed the action three more times inside the final 50 laps, both Gordon and Gustafson knew their chances at a win were waning.
“It’s typical of Martinsville, or any track that wears tires,” Gustafson said. “If you can go early (in a run), that means your car is free enough to turn, but you’re not going to be able to go late. Which way is the coin going to fall?”
Gordon had moved to third with less than 75 laps remaining, took second on Lap 445 but lost the spot to Clint Bowyer before the yellow flag appeared a final time after Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet slammed the wall and erupted in flames.
With only eight laps remaining, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson pulled away from Bowyer for his eighth career win at Martinsville, leaving Gordon to finish third.
“You know, we can't afford to do those things,” Gordon said of his pit miscue. “I can't be making those mistakes, and we can't have those mistakes made, and that's just how crucial it is in the sport today as competitive as everybody is and how close the cars are.
“You know, we kind of got fortunate.”
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