News & Media

One 'five' denied at Indy; Gordon eyes bigger prize

July 31, 2011, Dave Rodman,

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jeff Gordon had "visions of five" as the laps wound down in Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with leader Paul Menard dead ahead in his sights.

"I really enjoyed there at the end being in a position to not have to conserve [fuel]," Gordon said. "It was a lot of fun to run hard and try to chase these guys down, even though we came up short. It's the position everybody prefers to be in [though it] doesn't mean you're always going to win the race that way."

"While we didn't win, I think we definitely showed that we're a championship-caliber team."


* Final Laps: Brickyard 400 | Press Pass: Gordon

Gordon, a California native who grew up racing in Indiana, won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and additional races here in '98, 2001 and '04; he thought he and crew chief Alan Gustafson had played their fuel strategy perfectly, and it felt pretty darn special.

"It's been a while since we had a car like that, here at Indy -- just a flawless effort by the team," Gordon said. "The pit stops were fantastic. I thought Alan called a great race. When we came off pit road the last time, we were able to get ahead of [2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin] Harvick, I thought that was a huge moment for us. That put us in position to win.

"I knew that shortly after that, there were some guys that were going to try to stretch it on fuel and all I could do is run as hard as I could to put pressure on them and hope that I got there in time. We got there just a little bit short.

"Paul did a great job saving fuel because when I got there, even Regan [Smith, third-place finisher] and other guys, they were still pretty much checking up when I got there. It was easy to get by them. But Paul had saved enough to where he could go back to a full pace. By that time, my car was just too tight behind him."

But even as Menard held on to win his first career Sprint Cup race, denying Gordon his fifth Brickyard victory, Gordon's mind instantly switched to contending for his fifth career Cup championship.

Finishing second at the Brickyard, where "we haven't run this good in a while [and] I know what it means to run good here at Indy;" will do that. Gordon said the weekend's effort by his Hendrick Motorsports crew made a definite point.

"Yeah, it says a lot," Gordon said. "Obviously we wanted to win this race, but we also wanted to make a statement. I think we certainly did that. You know, this team is for real. We showed that [Sunday]. You always hear about people talking about the team that wins here at Indy, their chances for the championship.

"While we didn't win, I think we definitely showed that we're a championship-caliber team. We've been knocking on the door, getting closer every single weekend, won a couple races. For me, this is going to be a huge boost for this race team and hopefully a bit of a statement to the competition as well, that we're serious about our efforts at a championship this year.

"If we can run like we did here at Indy, I know we're capable of winning just about any place we go."

Gordon's finish kept him in seventh in the championship, with six races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff. Having won twice in 20 races and being a virtual lock for the 12-man Chase field, Gordon predicted more of the same from his team in the stretch run to the Chase.

"Man, we're going to try to put the same kind of effort we just did [Sunday] and just keep building our team up to be able to be championship caliber when the Chase comes around," Gordon said. "I think we're very close. Alan and I, it took us a little while to get to know one another, how to communicate with one another, what I need in the car. He's been really giving me great stuff to drive. It's been a blast."

Gordon started the event in eighth and was never scored out of the top five for the first two-thirds of the race. As the late-race pit strategy started to unfold in the race that had only five cautions, and none in the last 35 laps. Gordon was 16th with 20 laps left; he wasn't worried.

"[Sunday] was just solid pit stops, no mistakes, a lot of confidence in [Gustafson's] calls, in his adjustments," Gordon said. "I thought we were a complete team. We've got to continue to do that week in and week out.

"I think there's definitely more tracks that we can win at, but it's really about building ourselves up to be strong when the Chase comes around."

Indy, where Gordon has 14 top-10 finishes in 18 career starts, with 10 of them top-fives, is a good barometer for what's coming.

"It was awesome -- what a fun race for us," Gordon said of his day. "From the time we got here, probably even prior to getting here, I felt really positive about the effort that was put into our race car. The guys were really fired up about getting here, but you still never know until you get out there on the track.

"The first couple laps on that track, it just had that feel, you know -- it had a great feel. Struggled a little bit getting ready for qualifying, but qualified better than I thought we would.

"When they dropped the green, I knew we had a car that could win this race. It was a lot of fun."

But in the end, Gordon said there wasn't much more he could've done to win.

"[Menard's win] was not just a fluke," Gordon said. "They took a big risk, but they had to beat a lot of other guys that were trying to save fuel. There at the end, you know, I couldn't have passed him.

"I'll be honest with you, I used it all up getting to him. And then when I got to him, I got tight. He could run a good enough pace where even if I had gotten closer to him, I don't think I could have passed."

Gordon was consistent in his praise of Menard, and actually went to Victory Lane to congratulate the driver who said he was here, as a fan, on the day Gordon won the Brickyard inaugural. Menard said Gordon's respect meant a lot to him.

"Paul was pretty good all day [Sunday], actually," Gordon said. "I ran with him earlier in the race. It was going to be tough to pass him then. There at the end, where I give him a lot of credit, he saved enough fuel to where at the end he went for it. The tires are not too burned off because he didn't push the car too hard. He saved enough fuel that he could run a good enough pace that I don't think I could have passed him.

"I used it all up getting to him. But another lap, I was hoping he was going to run out [laughing]. I was hoping it was going to be an easy pass."

That would have made Gordon, who actually led four different times for a total of 36 laps, a lot happier than he initially was at the end.

"I guess I'm happy because we ran so good," Gordon said. "This is a tough place. There's no coincidence that teams that have won here in the past several times have gone on to win the championship because it shows who has the complete package. I think that we showed we got a great package.

"While we came up short, I guess [I don't feel so bad] because I'm happy for Paul. If you're gonna get beat, it's pretty cool to get beat by somebody that can really appreciate this win. I don't like finishing second. I was disappointed. When I came down the front straightaway, I was pretty upset.

"But that quickly turned into my thoughts about how great we ran [Sunday] and how cool it was for Paul."