News & Media

Gordon feeling pressure to get best from his cars

March 23, 2012, David Caraviello,

FONTANA, Calif. -- It's certainly not a feeling of panic. Jeff Gordon wouldn't go as far as to call it a sense of urgency, either. But there's something stirring within the No. 24 team, internal indications that it's time to turn things around before those other, much more pressing sensations begin to take hold.

With good reason, given that after an engine failure in the Daytona 500 and a freak accident with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. last weekend at Bristol, Gordon stands 23rd in Sprint Cup points. It's not so much the position that concerns him, but that he hasn't been able to get good finishes out of cars that battled up front in the two events Gordon completed this season without incident.

"It just seems like when we're having good days, something strange has come up and it's kept us from getting a good finish."


"It's not an urgency, but we're starting to feel a little bit more pressure to put those finishes together that I know were capable of doing, which is the good thing," Gordon said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, where he's won three times. "That's a good problem to have. It's when you don't think you're capable of it that makes it challenging. I know we are, and this is a good track for us."

Last week didn't help. Gordon ran in the top five most of the afternoon at Bristol before he and Earnhardt made contact following a restart, and the slight brush was just enough for the tailpipe peeking out the right side of the No. 88 car to cut down the left-rear tire on the No. 24 (watch). The end result was a 35th-place finish for what had been one of the better cars in the event, and Earnhardt reaching out to his teammate in the ensuing days to make sure all was well between them.

Earnhardt said he felt good about how the conversation went, and foresees no issues between him and Gordon stemming from the incident.

"It was just a freak situation, and you've kind of got to remember that, you know, and not really beat yourself up too much about it," Earnhardt said. "Jeff has a good reputation in this sport. I've got a lot of respect [for him] and enjoy being his teammate. I've learned a lot from him even before we were teammates, just racing him over the years. He has been here a long time, and I think we will be able to race each other without any problems. I think he respects me and I respect him. We will be able to move forward without any problems."

Even so, Gordon wondered if the two needed to be racing each other that hard at that point in the race. "I think if that's for the win, or position at the end of the race, I get it. But I think we both agree it probably wasn't the best thing to do that early," he said. He also thought the tailpipe position on the cars needed to be reexamined as a result.

"It was just a strange situation to happen," he said. "We were racing hard, racing for position after a restart, and he definitely got into me. But you could do that 100 times and go about your business. But this particular case, the tailpipe just lined up perfectly on the left rear, which really to me is a much bigger issue than the contact between me and Junior. I don't understand why the tailpipes are even capable of getting to the left-rear tire. That happens at a big, fast speedway, it's a much bigger incident than what that was. So I'd like to see that addressed."

Southern California seems as good a place as any to try and rebound, given Gordon's record at the facility now known as Auto Club Speedway. And yet, the most recent of his three victories here came in 2004, in the midst of what was a run of Roush domination on the 2-mile oval. Chevrolets currently have won four consecutive events in Fontana, a venue that for teams has become more of a moving target the older it gets.

"I think the track has become more difficult to drive, which I think is good," Carl Edwards said. "I think it's no longer just a big engine [and] a good aero package makes you faster. You really have to have the setup right and you have to drive it perfectly. You have to work on the car through the race, so I think it's made this track tougher for one team to just dominate. I think you're going to see this track give more surprise winners and better races, and I think there will be more action because of how dynamic it is and how difficult it is to drive. So I think that might be why we don't just see the same people up front here that you always have."

Gordon, who was a runner-up here as recently as 2009, has seen the transformation firsthand. The track has changed in more than name since he recorded his most recent victory at a facility than started out in 1997 as California Speedway.

"You always hear us talk about the car sliding around and losing grip, and having a lot of falloff in the tires as the run goes on, and the groove widening out. It seems to me like this track is starting to see a lot of that," Gordon said. "To see a third groove already worked in [Friday] in practice means that you're going to see cars all the way up against the fence, all the way down in the apron, and everywhere in between."

For the No. 24 team, the hope is its vehicle will wind up in Victory Lane. But a more immediate concern is recording the kind of finish Gordon that knows his race car is capable -- finishes that this season, at least, haven't occurred often enough.

"We've had some moments that I felt very confident in. Our cars at times have run very good," he said. "It just seems like when we're having good days, something strange has come up and it's kept us from getting a good finish."

Watch all of Gordon's season highlights: