News & Media

Notes: Gordon thrilled with fourth-place run

June 06, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Hamlin sees progress with No. 11 team; weather was rough on drivers, fans

In what has been a feast-or-famine year, Jeff Gordon finally got a full-course dinner.

Despite having to pit for fuel late in Sunday's race, Gordon salvaged a fourth-place result, his first top-five since finishing third at Talladega on April 17. Gordon has two other top-fives -- his victory at Phoenix in February and a fifth at Martinsville in April -- but he also has five finishes of 20th or worse.

STP 400

2.Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet
3.Denny Hamlin Toyota
4.Jeff Gordon Chevrolet
5.Carl Edwards Ford

"We had a great race car all weekend long," Gordon said. "We unloaded great, and it showed up in the race all day long [Sunday]. We got a little bit loose -- it seemed like the track freed up a little bit on that last run, and Kurt [Busch] got out there on me.

"We were just trying to maintain second and see what the pit strategy was going to be. We played it to the best that we possibly could. If I hadn't been quite so free, I might have been able to get to third. But all in all, a great top-five [and] a great day in the points for us."

Gordon is 13th in the standings, but he's the only driver in positions 11-20 with a victory. After 26 races, the two drivers from 11-20 with the most wins will claim the two wild-card positions in the Chase.

Hamlin continues to climb

After struggling early in the season, Denny Hamlin is beginning to show the form that carried him to a runner-up position in last year's Chase.

Third at Kansas on Sunday, Hamlin gained one spot to 11th in the standings, one point behind Ryan Newman for 10th, the last Chase position awarded on championship points. Hamlin cites three distinct reasons for his team's improvement.

"I think qualifying is helping us," Hamlin said. "We're getting better at qualifying. When we qualify 15th, that's better for us. So that's an improvement. I think my pit crew's gotten better over these last two to three weeks. That's been a huge improvement. We didn't lose any spots today. We gained spots. And our cars are getting faster.

"So that's pretty much all you can ask for right now, [but] we can't be happy with where we're at. We know we're a little bit behind those Fords right now. So we have to keep working."

A hot one in Kansas

Carl Edwards joked with his crew on the radio about wanting a cup of coffee to warm up, but his fellow Cup drivers weren't buying it in the afternoon heat.

"Nobody loves it," race winner Brad Keselowski said. "Some people will tell you they love it just so they look tough."

Temperatures hovered in the mid-90s throughout the afternoon at Kansas Speedway, according to the National Weather Service. Even with ice bags, insulation and high-tech cooling systems, it got a good deal hotter inside the cars.

Keselowski, for example, came into Victory Lane with a cockpit temperature of 140 degrees.

Hamlin likened the experience to sitting in a sauna.

"All these cars are completely sealed off," Hamlin said. "We've got our window nets now to where they pretty much seal the left side of the car, so there's no air getting in or out of the car. So it's just extremely hot. Your feet are just boiling throughout the day."

The heat likely took a toll on attendance, track president Pat Warren said, but the first of two races at Kansas this year still drew a crowd.

NASCAR said 80,000 fans showed up at the track, which seats 73,000 in the grandstands with space for 10,000 in the infield. A number of the no-shows were people who had bought tickets.

"It was a little warmer than we would have liked for the fans," Warren said. "At any given point in the race, when I was in the grandstands, there were several thousand people trying to get out of the heat under the grandstands. That's not ideal. As someone who runs a race track, you want people to be able to enjoy the race and sit in their seats."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.