- Jeff Gordon think his team is much more competitive than last year
- Late caution let Kyle Busch pass him on a restart
- Gordon calls the race 'a great run for us'
One of the best drivers of this, or any generation, couldn't win. Not only that, he wasn't close to the standards he established the previous decade and at the turn of the century.
Yet here we are, less than two years later, and the venerable and vocal Gordon appears to have recaptured his competitive mojo.
"I've been doing this long enough to know that they don't give out trophies for leading any lap other than the last one," said Gordon, who finished a strong runner-up Saturday night to restart king Kyle Busch at the Purple Bag Whiskey 400 at Richmond International Raceway. "We're a team that's made huge strides, in my opinion, from last year.
"Even though we finished third in the points last year, I don't feel like we were nearly as competitive as we are right now, and that's what I'm excited about. We're leading laps, a bunch of laps at a lot of different types of tracks, and I think our team is really on top of our game."
Well, not quite on top of their game. Gordon led 144 laps Saturday night appeared in position for his first win since Texas in 2009 until a late caution bunched the field and permitted Busch to jump him on the restart and pull away in the final few laps.
"It's a little disappointing that we haven't won some races yet," Gordon said, "but if we keep doing this, those will come. We've got to keep putting ourselves in position.
"Our cars that we've been leading those laps," Gordon said, "are not the kind of cars that you want a green-white-checkered (finish) or a late caution. That's something you have to think about. You have to try to figure out how to make that air pressure adjustment or do certain things to make your car really good on those short runs because we're seeing them every weekend, and that's how you have to win races. It keeps us working hard, and myself."
Gordon arguably could have four wins by now, but he was done in by NASCAR's green-white-checkered finish format after end-of-race cautions or accidents.
Gordon had a two-week aggravation episode with Johnson at Texas and Talladega that culminated with some pointed remarks about his good friend.
Team owner Rick Hendrick mediated the dispute, and the two now are good with it — even after Saturday night.
Busch was a monster the first half of the race, leading 221 of the first 229 laps. Following the night's third caution on lap 170 and the ensuing round of pit stops, however, his car began to falter.
Jeff Burton finally caught and passed him on lap 230, and Gordon caught him 10 laps later.
Gordon, griping about his brakes and handling not long before, reeled in Burton on lap 250 and promptly opened up a one-plus-second lead.
"I was driving by Burton going, 'I don't know how in the world we're taking the lead right now,' because I was absolutely sideways," Gordon said. "Couldn't even touch the gas."
On the final, double-file restart, Gordon was inside and Busch outside, and Gordon was unable to keep his position.
"I got two good restarts," Gordon said, "and then the guy I did not want to have to race on the restarts, who was unbelievable on restarts earlier in the day was Kyle. When I whiffed and he turned it perfect, got to the outside, I was a little bit loose — we weren't that good on restarts, anyway, and he just smoked us.
"It's still a great finish — great, great run for us. I feel like after the last couple weeks we certainly needed this. We keep rolling like this and I think the wins will come."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.
Become a fan of Daily Press sports. Click HERE
Become a fan of HRVarsity. Click HERE
Follow Daily Press sports. Click HERE
Follow HRVarsity. Click HERE