News & Media

Gordon leaves Infineon with smiles, not target

June 27, 2011, Joe Menzer,

SONOMA, Calif. -- For the second year in a row, Sunday marked an unbelievable performance at Infineon Raceway for Jeff Gordon.

But whereas in 2010 it was unbelievable for all the wrong reasons, this time around it was just that for all the right ones from Gordon's perspective. Capping a relatively uneventful day on his part when the rest of the Sprint Cup racing world seemed to be exploding all around him, Gordon cruised to a second-place finish behind Kurt Busch in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

"I certainly didn't want to make as many enemies as I did last year, because I made a lot of 'em coming out of here. So it's nice to come out of here and have that not happen. "


Expelling a sigh of relief and wiping his brow shortly afterward, Gordon made a blunt admission.

"I can't believe we finished second," he said.

Gordon never led a single circuit of the 1.99-mile road course during the 110-lap event. In fact, he never really came very close to leading a single lap.

But he celebrated not only the finish and the fact that it helped him jump three spots in the points standings to ninth, but also merely the fact that he made it through the day without running into anyone or anything. As other seemingly more legitimate contenders in front of him started falling to the wayside because they were out of patience and running into each other, Gordon ran an exceptionally clean race and kept moving up through the field a little at a time until only Busch remained in front of him.

A year earlier, that was hardly the case when he angered a number of other drivers -- Busch included.

"I didn't plan on going into it last year that way," Gordon said. "It just kind of happened that way.

"I was not proud of some of the things that I did last year. You know, it's not my style. It's not the way I like to race. ... There were some instances where it was a mistake on my part."

Keeping it clean

In some ways, it helped Gordon that he didn't believe he had a very good car Sunday. Last year he thought he did and he kept trying aggressively to get to the front with it. He eventually did come away with a respectable fifth-place finish, but only at the expense of angering Busch and several other drivers -- most notably Martin Truex Jr. -- along the way.

"I felt bad after [finishing 29th in] that race last year. Then I heard how mad everybody was at you and it made me feel better," a smiling Carl Edwards joked with Gordon on Sunday.

Edwards also joked that he did get mad at Gordon once Sunday -- when Gordon passed him for second with two laps to go.

"You really pissed me off, passing me there at the end," said Edwards, laughing.

To which Gordon quickly responded, "But I didn't touch you."

Gordon said not having the best car allowed him to be more patient this time -- especially in treacherous Turn 11, the passing zone where drivers typically feel they must take the most chances at Infineon.

"There were times where we didn't have the car and I gave up the spots," he said. "I wasn't going to try to push the issue. I guess that's good and bad. I didn't have a car that could even try to pass anybody or block anybody down in Turn 11 for most of the race. So I had to give up a lot of those spots and bite my tongue and hope we could get [the car] fixed or get track position. It worked out."

It worked out because crew chief Alan Gustafson did his best to make the No. 24 Chevrolet better during the limited pit stops this race permits -- and because Gordon did not get very aggressive on many occasions when he otherwise might have. It also probably helped that he already has two victories in the bank this season, virtually assuring that he'll qualify for one of the 12 Chase berths whether or not he finishes in the top 10 in points.

All of which proved to be a recipe to practice more patience.

"I certainly didn't want to make as many enemies as I did last year, because I made a lot of 'em coming out of here," Gordon said. "So it's nice to come out of here and have that not happen. I don't think I really touched anybody [Sunday]. That feels good."

A nice touch

One nice touch Gordon did apply Sunday came when he visited Victory Lane to congratulate Busch. Two days earlier, Busch had complained to the media that Gordon apologized to everyone but him for the previous year's debacle -- but Gordon wanted to make it clear Sunday that his visit to Victory Lane had nothing to do with last year.

Or an apology.

"I didn't feel like I owed him an apology," Gordon said. "He's done things to me over the years that I didn't get an apology on. That's just the relationship I have with Kurt. If it's Carl [Edwards], well, certain guys have certain relationships.

"If you have that kind of respect on the track for one another, you apologize. I don't think that exists really with me and Kurt, so I see no need to apologize."

No, Gordon just wanted to offer his congratulations on a job well done Sunday. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And it seemed Busch was willing to let past transgressions be forgotten as well. Perhaps the first road-course win in his 11-year Cup career mellowed him, if only for the moment.

There was, however, also the sense of satisfaction of beating Gordon at his own game. Gordon has long been considered a road-course master, having won at Infineon a total of five times in his own career -- or more than twice as many times as any other driver.

"To beat a guy like Jeff Gordon here today, it's that much sweeter," Busch said. "I respect him. He's third on our all-time list [in race victories]. He's a four-time champion. I'm not going to get sideways with a guy like that, but I'm going to let him know he can't walk all over me."

One point was made clear both this Sunday and a year ago: even on days when either he or his car might be a little off, Gordon remains a pretty darn good finisher at Infineon.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.