Late-race mistake costs No. 24 team in Chase's Round 2
LOUDON, N.H. -- This one's on his shoulders.
Jeff Gordon's chances at victory and a shot at putting himself back in the thick of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup battle slid from his grasp just past the 200-lap mark in Sunday's Sylvania 300.
"I'm highly disappointed in myself," Gordon said on the heels of a 15th-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
A week after a hard-fought sixth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway propelled Gordon from dead last in the 13-car Chase field to a much more stable seventh, this miscue was costly. Twenty-four points behind red-hot Matt Kenseth (winner of both Chase races thus far) after last week, the 42-year-old now trails by 42.
"The team put me in a great position. We had a decent car and then track position made it into a great car. So it was obviously important to maintain that," he said.
Instead, the single slip took the four-time NASCAR Cup champion from first to 24th in the running order.
Pitting with the lead following the day's fifth caution -- this one for debris -- Gordon drove too deep into his pit box, the front of his No. 24 Chevrolet barely crossing the front line. Seconds passed as his team pushed his car back into the box before it could begin service.
"I just came in and slid through. I hadn't come close to sliding through all day and I guess just leading, I carried a little bit more speed in there 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," he said.
No argument ensued. The infraction was obvious. "I saw the (NASCAR) official react," Gordon said, "and I knew we were in trouble."
Although he led 36 laps on the 1.058-mile track before the stumble, Gordon was unable to race his way to the front following the setback. He slowly inched his way closer to the top 10, climbing as high as 13th at one point.
But track position proved too difficult to obtain and Kenseth proved too fast.
"If Kenseth keeps doing what he's doing, it's not going to matter what anybody else does," Gordon said of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, now 2-for-2 in this year's Chase.
The performances of his own cars and team have been more than up to par, he said, giving him hope that at least a top-five points finish is still attainable. Those in front of him aren't exactly slugs, so the going won't be easy. But only six points separate Gordon and fourth-place Carl Edwards.
"For us, we have to be realistic and look at our points position and outcome and right now we're not that far out of fourth, so that's a realistic goal for us. But anything is possible. We go to these next several races and go on a tear, who knows? But we're higher in points than where we started this thing so we'll just keep that going.
"I think we are very capable of doing it but the driver can't make mistakes. … I made a crucial one and I can't allow that to happen."
Gordon has one or more wins on all eight of the remaining tracks in the Chase. The last of his 87 career victories, however, came nearly a year ago, in the season-ending race at Homestead, Fla.
The series moves to Dover International Speedway this week. What took place at Loudon will be yesterday's news soon enough, he said. He won't dwell on what could have been.
"I've been doing this for 20-some years, man. It's not like I've never made mistakes before but you just hate to make them at a crucial time like that," said Gordon. "So I'm very disappointed.
"And I'll be disappointed until we get to Dover and start working on Dover."