News & Media

Gordon's dominant performance turns into the pits

August 28, 2011, David Caraviello,

Uneven timing lines only thing that could slow 24 team in third-place run at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Alan Gustafson sat on a stack of tires, the frustration evident on his face. His team has dominated much of Saturday night's event at Bristol Motor Speedway, and ultimately Jeff Gordon's crew chief felt they had been beaten on pit road. Not by the performance of his pit crew -- but by pit road itself.

"Robbed at Indy, and robbed here. Yeah, I'm tired of it," Gustafson said after Gordon led 206 laps but finished third in an event won by Brad Keselowski. "They did what they had to do to win. Our pit box, guys held us up, and guys would gas it up and pass us. It's frustrating. But we've got the performance, and this team can perform at a high level, and the breaks are going to go their way for only so long. And the day it doesn't, well be OK."

"Robbed at Indy, and robbed here. Yeah, I'm tired of it. ... It's frustrating. "



"Pit road is terrible. ... Something is wrong with the system."


Bristol was a race that certainly boosted Gordon's hopes of contending in the Chase, given how he paced the field for much of the 500-lap event. But it was also a disappointingly close call, given how again and again Gordon would lead the field to pit road during pit cycles, and again and again have given up the lead by the time he rolled back on the concrete racing surface. That loss of track position proved pivotal after Gordon emerged fifth prior to the final restart, and used up so much of his car getting back up to the leaders that he didn't have enough left to pass them.

NASCAR uses timing lines to gauge driver speed at certain sections of pit road, and drivers have made a practice of learning where those lines are and zooming up to them, but slowing down to the required speed to pass them. Bristol is the only track on the circuit with a split pit road, and Gordon's stall was the first one on the backstretch. According to the No. 24 team, the timing lines at the short track are simply too spread out, and drivers who face more pit-road traffic -- as Gordon did on his final stop -- are at a disadvantage.

"To me, the whole purpose of having timing lines and pit road speed is to make it as equal and fair for everybody as you possibly can. And they've got some work to do at this pit road. The race track is awesome, but the pit road is terrible. When a guy can run 60 miles an hour down pit road and the pit road speed is, what, 35, then something is wrong with the system," Gordon said.

"We were able to do something similar to that on the back straightaway, so I don't really feel like that's what cost us [Saturday night]. I did have a couple cars coming down pit road that were going slow when I left my pit stall that held me up a little bit, but we qualified good, so we had one of those stalls. But even when you have one and you see the other guys have one, it's a joke that somebody can leave pit road and run that fast down pit road and then slam on the brakes. [Matt] Kenseth drove by four cars, and so did [Keselowski] when he left his pit stall. I just don't understand it. But that is the way that it is here, and it puts a huge premium on the pit stall and qualifying up front."

Gustafson was more succinct, pointing to the Sunoco sign that marks the entrance to the frontstretch pit road. "You can go from that Sunoco sign to the start/finish line, and you can go from the start/finish line to the end," he said. "We can do the same thing back there, but the 42 [car of Juan Montoya] and the 31 [car of Jeff Burton] came in at the tail end of the lead lap and blocked us. That's the difference."

NASCAR heard those comments, and seemed inclined to make a change in Bristol's timing-line system before the circuit returns to the half-mile track next spring. "We saw what happened [Saturday night], and we're already looking into it," said Sprint Cup director John Darby. "What we are likely to do is install a few more scoring loops on pit road in order to create more segments."

For Gordon, the pit-road frustrations didn't seem to dampen an effort that further bolsters his championship credentials, even if he was denied an 85th career victory that would have moved him into sole possession of third place (behind Richard Petty and David Pearson) on NASCAR's all-time list. He was particularly pleased with the progress his team has made since a 14th-place run at Bristol in the spring.

"I'm excited about our race team. We've been running really strong, been leading a lot of laps, running up front at the big races. To me, the most impressive thing about my racing was what improvement we made from the spring at this track to this evening," said Gordon, who moved up to fifth in points with his seventh top-10 in his past nine starts.

"We were out to lunch earlier in the year, and I just think we've come a long way as a team, communication, confidence, and what we've learned together on how to make our race cars better and how to communicate better to get the most out of the cars. I'm having a blast right now, and when you're having fun it means you're competitive on a fairly consistent basis, and I hope we can keep that going, because we can definitely do some damage and give some guys a real run for their money in the Chase."

Gustafson seemed to agree, as much as the third-place finish Saturday ate at him. "I'll just let the performance of this team speak for itself," the crew chief said. "I think it's pretty obvious to me that consistently every week, we're a car that runs up front. But you've got to convert, and that's what we've got to work on."

* Press Pass: Gordon talks timing lines and title chances